The heroes of British business 2007

Comany of the Year

AES Engineering, the mechanical seal manufacturer, looked dead in the water in 1981 when its American distributor walked away from the deal. Vowing never to be wholly reliant on a third party again, owner Chris Rea decided to go it alone and acquired a small machine shop. Fast-forward to 2007 and AES is a company that’s achieved an unbroken track record of turnover and profit growth during the last 25 years. 

In 2006, AES recorded sales of £62m and profits that are a shade above £6m. It’s now the fourth-largest manufacturer in its market in the world. Bigmouth Media is a digital marketing company with an enviable customer base that includes the likes of MTV, Barclays and British Airways. Ten years after its incorporation, the company is set to hit £70m turnover and profit in excess of £11m.

Churchill Retirement: As the UK’s population gets older, Churchill Retirement is there to provide retirement houses for the over-sixties. With forecast turnover of £70m this year and generous employee benefits, this is one company that isn’t living in the past.

Photobox is a UK pioneer in the digital photography age. Established in 2000, the company offers customers efficient, affordable and imaginative ways to print, store and share their digital photos. This year, revenue is expected to top £17.6m.

New Product of the Year

Totally Different: Former teacher Jacqui Edwards has designed a range of disposable, fluffy and antibacterial toilet-seat covers. Orders for her individually-wrapped “Flushies” have been flooding in from pharmacies and washroom hygiene suppliers, with sales expected to hit £1m in 2010.

Natural Colour Cotton: No dyes. No toxic pesticides. No fertilisers. This eco-friendly firm is the first company to control the entire cotton manufacturing process from soil to shop. It distributes its babywear range to eight countries and stocks every John Lewis store in the UK.GenQuip has developed the world’s first portable toilet unit. The so-called “HogLoo” is a standalone system that needs no connections to tanks or drains and comes with its own waste incinerator. Within three months of launch, GenQuip had already signed £1m worth of orders.

A Suit That Fits: Inspired after being measured up for a suit in Nepal, Warren Bennett and co-founder David Hathiramani launched the world’s first online tailor-made suit company. They delivered over 1,600 suits in their first year and are now turning over £73,610 a month. 

Entrepreneur of the Year

Michael Cleary has grown his Surrey-based credit management and debt collection firm 1st Credit into a £54m-turnover giant in just six years. He now employs 230 staff and has 2.5m customers on his books.

David Pollock’s ambition is to grow telecoms company Chess into a £100m enterprise by 2010. And after 21 acquisitions in the past few years, he’s forcing his rivals into checkmate.

Steve Leach is the Scottish entrepreneur behind Bigmouth Media, the digital marketing agency. Starting out with just three employees in Edinburgh, Leach now employs over 200 staff across eight countries and is set to hit the £70m-turnover mark this year.

Grant Bovey was dragged through tabloid hell, defeated by Ricky Gervais in a televised boxing match and destined to be known only as Mr Anthea Turner. That all changed in 2003 when he set up Imagine Homes, now the country’s biggest buy-to-let firm, worth £150m.

Charlie Hoult founded Loewy in 2004 and has built it into the second largest independent marketing agency in the country, turning over £47m and employing 400 people. This isn’t Hoult’s first entrepreneurial enterprise: he’s sold two businesses in the past few years – newsletter publishing business Incisive Research and serviced-office firm Metrocube.

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