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.
Combined sales of TV250 businesses are well over £26 billion and they employ more than 100,000 people.
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.”
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.
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
- Lucy Group
- Mathematical Market Research (MMR)
Winner: Lucy Group
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
- Austin Fraser
- Grundon Waste Management
- Sun Mark
- World Wise Foods
Winner: Austin Fraser
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
- Cala Group
- Eden Motor Group
- Lister Wilder Group
- Westbury Street
- Nuvias Group (Wick Hill)
Winner: Nuvias Group (Wick Hill)
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
- Chevron Traffic Management
- ESP Global Services
- Grundon Waste Management
- IRIS Software Group
- PBA, now part of Stantec
Winner: PBA, now part of Stantec
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.
“We work with a number of schools and different age groups, both locally and around our UK offices, getting young children interested in STEM subjects. We also partner with University Technical Colleges, supporting young people with real life projects and mentoring. Having our own foundation means we can really inspire and inform young people. Staff support for our innovative community initiatives is just phenomenal – wanting to do something comes naturally to our people.” Claire Whitehouse, associate, PBA
INNOVATION AWARD – sponsored by BDO
- Mathematical Market Research (MMR)
- Owen Mumford
Winner: Mathematical Market Research (MMR)
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
- Audley Travel
- Direct Wines/Laithwaites
- Fourfront Group
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
- 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.
CEO OF THE YEAR AWARD (over £25m) – sponsored by Gateley plc/HSBC
- 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
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