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Thames Valley 250: 2019 listing revealed

The Business Magazine has published the 2019 Thames Valley 250 online and in the July/August edition of the magazine.

This is the 10th year of the 250 list – sponsored by Gateley plc, BDO, Henley Business School, Lloyds Bank and Vail Williams – and companies on the list have combined sales of well over £20 billion and employ more than 100,000 people.

At the top once again is Westcoast, the IT products supplier based at Theale. It has outgunned Thames Water for yet another year – with sales approaching £2.5b. The company is moving progressively from traditional IT distribution to cloud services, technology solutions and fulfilment. Its growth is evidenced by the lease of a new 340,000 sq ft warehouse facility, effectively doubling Westcoast’s UK warehouse space.

Thames Water remains at number two in the chart with Urenco at three. Jumping up to number four is CALA Group, the housebuilder, which was founded in 1875, and has built a reputation in the past 30 years for building premium homes with an emphasis on quality. With its head office at Wooburn Green, Bucks, CALA has seen sales jump to £1.2b.

Oxfordshire-based Hook 2 Sisters – trading as PD Hook Hatcheries – is a family-owned business founded in the 1950s when the poultry industry was in its infancy. Hook 2 Sisters produces ‘healthy broilers to the highest welfare standards’; it now grows six million chicks a year. Sales have jumped by nearly £100 million in a year.

Further down the list, World Wise Foods, based in Bracknell, is a supplier of responsibly sourced fish and other food products to leading retailers across the world. From fish sauces to pickles, the company supplies in excess of 30 million units per year. Sales stand at £82m.

The Business Magazine Thames Valley 250 awards evening 2019

Region’s top performers honoured at Thames Valley 250 dinner

An awards dinner at Cliveden House Hotel celebrated the launch of the 2019 TV250 listing of the Thames Valley’s leading private companies. The event was also an opportunity to recognise winners in eight award categories.

The annual TV250 listing is available to download here. The TV250 is sponsored by BDO, Gateley plcHenley Business School and Vail Williams. Combined sales of TV250 businesses are well over £26 billion and they employ more than 100,000 people.

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Theale-based IT products supplier Westcoast once again topped the listing, with annual sales approaching £2.5bn. The company is moving from traditional IT distribution to cloud services, technology solutions and fulfilment.

Host for the awards evening Nick Morse, from The Business Magazine, said: “This is one of the most important regions in the UK in terms of its contribution to the economy. It has proved resilient in the past – even through the last recession – and we have to hope it will prove resilient once again post-Brexit.”

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Around 60 local business leaders who attended the dinner heard from guest speaker Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja, head of Global Operations at FMCG distribution business Sun Mark.

Ahuja was also named CEO of the Year for TV250 businesses with turnover over £25m.

He talked about the challenges and benefits of operating in emerging markets, and the various strategies that businesses can pursue to compete in them.

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Sun Mark was started by Ahuja’s father-in-law, Dr Rami Ranger CBE, who is now the chairman. The company has won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade for five consecutive years.

Ahuja has helped grow the business from £8m annual turnover when he joined in 2002 to nearer £200m today.

He explained that the company’s strategy has been to sell a range of products from leading brands that include Nestlé, Unilever and Mondelēz, in unstructured emerging markets where there is often “organised chaos”.

“We are good in any market that is difficult. It’s not easy and not for the faint-hearted,” he said.

A prominent factor behind Sun Mark’s success is its people. “It’s about bringing your people together so they understand your plan and see it the same way you do. Otherwise, you are guaranteed to fail,” he said.

Sun Mark exports to over 130 countries and currently has its sites in the UK, Dubai and Nigeria.

“We are bullish about growth in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ahuja.

And the TV250 award winners are…

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS AWARD – sponsored by BDO

Finalists:

  • Bullitt
  • Lucy Group
  • Mabey
  • Mathematical Market Research (MMR)

Winner: Lucy Group

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The judges said: This business has a strong international presence and its innovative practices in developing countries were impressive. Its implementation of common values across its network, allowing for strong communication internationally, and its policy to recruit locally, enforced its status as a truly global business and its commitment to achieve international success.

“Overseas and developing countries, especially in the Commonwealth, have been a great opportunity for us to expand. We adopt different strategies for different markets to maintain our corporate values. It can be difficult, as one size doesn’t fit all. Our business culture and how we interact with people makes a big difference. This includes recruiting locally so local management has strong relationships with all their customers.”

Gary Ashton, group finance director, Lucy Group

OWNER-MANAGED BUSINESS – sponsored by HSBC

Finalists:

  • Austin Fraser
  • Grundon Waste Management
  • Sun Mark
  • World Wise Foods

Winner: Austin Fraser

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The judges said: This company is a fast-growth, forward-thinking business that specialises in technical and life sciences recruitment. Based in the heart of the Thames Valley, they have grown their international footprint rapidly over the last few years. Management recognises the importance of their employees and have created an entrepreneurial and energetic culture. This company’s success is centred on their people and networks that they build.

“We grew the business first in the UK and then internationally, particularly in Germany and the US. We see our responsibility as offering inspiring careers to people. We are passionate about creating opportunities for our own people and our entrepreneurial culture is hugely important to us. As an owner-managed business a key challenge has been to keep our culture strong so you get the same feel in all our offices.”

Derek Simpson, co-founder and non-exec director, Austin Fraser

FAST RISER – sponsored by Gateley plc

Finalists:

  • Cala Group
  • Eden Motor Group
  • Lister Wilder Group
  • Travelodge
  • Westbury Street
  • Nuvias Group (Wick Hill)

Winner: Nuvias Group (Wick Hill)

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The judges said: This company has grown from £291.7m to 346.9m turnover, with 24 regional offices. They have brought on board companies to strengthen their market offering through resellers. With key strengths in security and telecommunications they can offer a complete solution. They have recently been named as the only Pan-EMEA distributor to offer the entire Juniper Networks security portfolio.

“Building up a network of regional offices across EMEA has been fundamental to our strategy. We have had high growth in the UK and Germany and are expanding in other regions. We want to make sure our three core businesses have a similar culture, which was a pre-requisite in deciding to buy them. In all three areas we are a trusted adviser, so we need to be able to say to clients that as one brand they can continue to trust in dealing with us.”

Ian Kilpatrick, strategic advisor for Cybersecurity, Nuvias Group (Wick Hill)

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AWARD – sponsored by Vail Williams

Finalists:

  • Chevron Traffic Management
  • ESP Global Services
  • Grundon Waste Management
  • IRIS Software Group
  • PBA, now part of Stantec

Winner: PBA, now part of Stantec

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The judges said: An impressively wide range of local office driven engagement from helping students in poorer schools to gain confidence in maths and public speaking and feeding into the LEP in relation to opportunities to improve inclusive travel and movement. Their investment in defining and supporting apprenticeship programmes, supporting local charities with matched funding, and sponsored sporting events were not only used to raise large amounts of money for charity but to engender team spirit.

“Through the Peter Brett Foundation we work with education providers, both locally and around the UK, to inspire, inform and prepare young people for a career in the built environment. We also partner with University Technical Colleges to provide real-life project experience and mentoring. This award is recognition of our efforts and is testament to the time and dedication our teams put into our community initiatives.”

Claire Whitehouse, associate, PBA

INNOVATION AWARD – sponsored by BDO

Finalists:

  • Mabey
  • Mathematical Market Research (MMR)
  • Owen Mumford
  • Prodrive

Winner: Mathematical Market Research (MMR)

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The judges said: We were impressed by the continuous innovation of their service offering, including their ‘express’ service. This in-house development opened up new markets and provided access to a new type of client, generating new revenue while making a valuable contribution to the company’s growth and success.

“Our clients want quick answers and value for money. Market research has historically taken weeks or months to deliver, so clearly there is a need for information that is available quickly and cheaply. Our express service takes weeks and costs thousands of pounds, rather than months and tens of thousands of pounds. We love answering questions and addressing business issues. We can offer solutions that are agile and which resonate with our clients.”

Guy Maxwell, director, MMR

CUSTOMER SERVICE AWARD – sponsored by Vail Williams

Finalists:

  • Audley Travel
  • Direct Wines/Laithwaites
  • Fourfront Group
  • Unipart

Winner: Audley Travel

The judges said: A business that is built on repeat business with customer satisfaction at the heart of everything they do – at the point of booking, pre-trip, during and post-holiday experience. Their staff are empowered to help every customer and they go out of the way to ensure their specialists are knowledgeable and everyone is incentivised to give excellent customer service regardless of role or responsibility. With annual surveys that are client, not data driven, and a focus on excellence, they impressed with the level of repeat business and appraisal of staff all driven by customer service.

CEO OF THE YEAR AWARD (under £25m) – sponsored by HSBC/Gateley plc

Finalists:

  • Sean Barley, Nirvana Spa and Leisure
  • Mel Maxwell, Sandbag
  • Rachel Houghton, Business Moves Group
  • William Jepps, Reflex 2005
  • Mark Peters, Slush Puppie

Winner: Mel Maxwell, Sandbag

The judges said: Our winner has driven this company from start-up to the innovative and truly international business that it is today. They took over running Radiohead’s fanclub in 1995 and from there helped to set up an independent supply chain to oversee Radiohead’s touring and on-line activities. This company is proud to be working with some of the world’s most respected and influential artists, including Radiohead, blink-182, Incubus and Rag and Bone Man on their innovative products, their global touring, retail, licensing, VIP and pre-sale ticketing and all of their e-commerce campaigns.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked to win. One of the biggest success factors for me is building strong teams and managing our workload the best we can. Our business is quite cyclical as bands release albums with merchandise on the back of them. It’s quite a complex business to run, juggling e-commerce and supply. We have to maximise our resources while business ebbs and flows. Being based in Reading is a sweet spot to service our clients in London and Oxford.”

Mel Maxwell, director, Sandbag

CEO OF THE YEAR AWARD (over £25m) – sponsored by Gateley plc/HSBC

Finalists:

  • Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja, Sun Mark
  • Matthew Bonfield, Huntswood
  • Robert Collard, R. Collard
  • Peter Hart, Austin Fraser
  • Clayton Sullivan-Webb, Grundon Waste Management

Winner: Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja, Sun Mark

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The judges said: This CEO has helped grow the company from an FMCG distribution business to one that now has businesses in over 130 countries. A multi-award winning export company with many Queen’s Awards to boast about. Our choice for CEO of the Year is an outstanding, inspiring and one of the most sought-after leaders in the country today.

“I wasn’t expecting this and am delighted to win the award. As CEO I make sure that everybody absolutely understands what we are doing. I also learn from our people – if you aren’t doing something right they will feed back to you. You have to trust your people. We have spokespeople at every level and listen to them through committees where we rotate people, so over time everyone can have a say in the business. I see my role not so much as inspiring others but more about collaborating with them, sharing our plan and delivering on it, so there is mutual inspiration in the company.”

Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja, Sun Mark