Together employing 84,500 people, the Solent 250 top unquoted businesses sit in pole position in the Solent region – as the cream of the circa 50,000 private companies across the area.
Listing companies by turnover – from more than £3b at the top to £12 million at number 250 – the grouping includes success stories such as construction company Brymor, up to £57m from £42.8m last year; and retirement apartment builder Churchill Retirement, up to £90m from £61m.
Other fast-rising companies include recruitment solutions specialist Serocor – up to £120m from£109.4m; and property maintenance company CLC Group, up to £101.4m from £77.7m.
Brought into the list for the first time is LV – the Liverpool Victoria General Insurance Group. With sales of some £3.4b, LV is the UK’s largest friendly society. While founded in Liverpool in 1843, the company moved to Bournemouth in 1996.
Chief executive Mike Rogers said in his last annual report that LV now employed 6,000 people across the UK. The Group had total income of £3.4b in 2014, as against £2.7b the previous year.
Second on the list is Arqiva, the Winchester-headquartered communications specialist, which appointed Mike Parton as chairman this year. With sales of £860m – up from £826m the previous year, Arqiva is helping build an Internet of Things as a leading provider of machine-to-machine connectivity services.
Fitness First is third in the list with a turnover of more than £500m. The first Fitness First club was opened in Bournemouth in 1993 and the company now has gyms in 16 countries.
Chief executive Andy Coslett has headed a turnaround at the company since hedge funds bought Fitness First from BC Partners in 2012.
Fourth on the list is McCarthy & Stone, which is moving from private to public, and plans to list later this year. The company was listed for 22 years before being taken private by Sir Tom Hunter in 2006, and with 70% of the UK market for retirement homes, it is said to be aiming for a valuation of £1b.
The company said it wants to use the cash as part of its plans to invest £2.5b to buy land and build new homes over the next four years. It says the retirement home market is under-supplied and aims to build 3,000 homes a year.
At number five, the private health insurer Simplyhealth Group sold its private medical insurance (PMI) business to AXA PPP. Chief executive Romana Abdin says it is part of a strategic review with Simplyhealth focusing on ‘everyday healthcare’ where the group sees “numerous growth opportunities”.
Serocor is one success story on the the Solent 250 list. With sales rising from £76 million in 2010 to circa £110m today, Serocor was founded by Paul Huntingdon (pictured below), a student at University of Portsmouth who joined IBM for a year‘s internship, and never looked back.
Another success is Lush, which has just been voted the most well-regarded brand in Britain. Lush was given an 89% rating by customers – placing the company ahead of First Direct and John Lewis.
Lush, which was at number five in last year‘s Solent 250, has been a remarkable success story for Poole. Founded by Mark Constantine and beauty therapist Liz Weir, it began after a chance meeting between the two in a hair and beauty salon in Poole.
Initially, Constantine and Weir supplied products to the Body Shop but when Anita Roddick‘s company began to focus on its own branded products, the pair set up a mail-order cosmetics company called Cosmetics-To-Go, which eventually went into administration.
But Constantine and Weir didn‘t give up, eventually creating their own products in a shop in Poole and selling them to eager customers, one of whom came up with the brand name, Lush.
The Solent 250 is now a £13 billion listing of private companies headquartered in the region. The combined turnover is up from just under £12b last year.
Together the companies employ more than 90,000 people, with a significant number having grown their workforce in the past year.
Turnovers have risen at many of the Solent 250 companies – and for the 2014 list we have included the two previous years’ sales, so that growth is more easily tracked.
At the top of the list again is Arqiva, the Winchester-headquartered leader in communications infrastructure. With sales of more than £800 million, Arqiva is a major WiFi provider for businesses, providing services for key clients such as Heathrow Airport.
Fitness First is second in the list with a turnover of more than £500m. The largest privately-owned health and fitness group in the world, Fitness First is celebrating growth in its UK membership numbers, after three years of stagnation in the recession, and is currently involved in a £225m gyms makeover programme.
Third in the list is the University of Southampton, posting £447m turnover. The university has a global reputation and is a regular top 20 university in the Good University Guide published by The Times.
At number four, the health insurer Simplyhealth Group handles up to 16,000 claims a day. In previous years, the group has traded under names such as HSA, BCWA and Healthsure, and this year was awarded British Superbrand status as one of the UK’s strongest brands.
The Solent 250 excludes some companies featured last year as further research has revealed foreign ownership, public placement of shares, or that the company is a subsidiary of a group headquartered elsewhere.
New names on the list this year include LV, Hall & Woodhouse, Beal and Blake Morgan.