Countdown begins to find the best 200 firms in the North East

Companies vying for a place in the eagerly anticipated North East Top 200 for 2013 will not have to wait much longer to find out who the biggest and best businesses in the region are

The countdown has begun to the unveiling of one of the most closely watched business ratings in the region.

Companies vying for a place in the eagerly anticipated North East Top 200 for 2013 will not have to wait much longer to find out who the biggest and best businesses in the region are.

Competition for companies to be top of the league is as tough now as it has ever been. And work is already underway to compile the latest table, which sees the biggest movers and shakers such as Nissan and Arriva measuring up against each other as well as scores of smaller businesses from across the region.

The Top 200, produced by The Journal and compiled by Newcastle University Business School, showcases the latest success stories in North East business and is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those making it into the league.

Leading Newcastle law firm Sintons is the sponsor of the Top 5 Privately Owned Companies category.

Karen Simms, Partner and head of the Company and Commercial department at Sintons, said: “As a law firm which is proud to be based in the North East and to work with some of our region’s leading businesses, Sintons is very pleased to support the Top 200.

“The North East is a region with so many outstanding businesses which continue to grow and progress despite the turbulent economic times. We look forward to celebrating another year of success for our region’s business community and leading business lights, and must commend The Journal for continuing to highlight this through the Top 200.”

Newcastle University Business School’s Director, Professor John Wilson said: “The Top 200 is a publication that has never been more relevant to the region. Through the authority of data, this annual publication shows how the region is building its capacity to shape and steer regional and national economic recovery, showing us brimming pockets of innovation in the newcomers, and the steadfast growth of Top 200 ‘regulars’.

“In a few weeks we will see 200 reasons to cheer: 200 businesses winning right here in the North East. It is good to know that with their drive, and the positive impact on supply chains, our region and its workforce remains robust and resilient.”

Many companies in the running for the Top 200 are in it for the long-term and continue to demonstrate strength, flair and ingenuity. However, some businesses in the North East which are also doing very well may not appear in the list, either because they do not qualify as firms based in this region or because their turnovers are below the cut-off point. That does not in any way belittle their progress.

But those that do win a place – as often pointed out at presentation time – provide in total a valuable snapshot of how the North East economy is faring.

Companies like Sage, Greggs and Nissan are brand names recognised nationally and internationally, and epitomise North East enterprise.

The top four in last year’s list – Nissan, Arriva, Go-Ahead and Sage – were none-movers from 2011 but can they hang on to their top spots for 2013?

Those making the biggest leaps in the league table last year were the PII Group Ltd, a pipeline maintenance company based in Cramlington, which jumped 93 places from number 180 to 87. Haltwhistle-based business Kilfrost Group plc, which manufactures de-icing products for aircraft, shot up 83 places from number 192 on the list to 109.

Newcastle United was also one of last year’s biggest movers, jumping 37 places from number 111 in 2011 to number 74 in 2012. And Newcastle-based holding company ISG Holdings 1 Ltd just missed the top 20 after rising 32 places from 53 to the number 21 spot.

But not faring quite so well was Newcastle-based meat wholesalers Henry Hirst (Provisions) Ltd, which fell from number 187 in 2011 to bottom place last year.

The annual table based on revenues has made a valuable and fascinating contribution to regional business information since it was first compiled in 1978.

Among previous table-toppers, Proctor & Gamble was first to achieve £1bn turnover in 1992. Associated Co-operative Creameries was first past £2bn in 2001. Northern Rock was the first business to make it to £3bn in 2005, then £4bn and £5bn in the following two years. And last year’s chart-topper, Nissan, succeeded on £4.3bn.

Three names dominated the first four years of rankings (1978-81) – a North East group of engineering firms, Proctor & Gamble and Birtley-based Allied Suppliers (Northern). Only in 1982 did housebuilder Barratt separate them.

The Gosforth-based Northern Engineering comprised firms from a golden industrial era, such as CA Parsons, Reyrolle and Clarke Chapman. The group held top spot in the chart for 12 years running before Proctor & Gamble emerged at number one in 1990.

It was, however, not the engineers’ last victory. A Rolls-Royce takeover pushed what became Rolls-Royce Industrial Power into the number one spot in 1993 and 1994.

For the rest of the 90s, however, Proctor & Gamble took the North East top business crown.

It would not be long though, before current top-notcher Nissan would assert its presence.

Only three years after producing its first cars at Sunderland, it appeared in eighth place.

By 1995, it had scored a hat-trick of successes as runner-up. By 2000, it was on top, since when – except for 2007 – it has remained among the top three.

But Nissan, which last year secured its fourth top spot with a turnover of £4.3bn, employing 5,489 staff, still has a way to go to match 14 successes scored by Tyneside’s earlier engineers.

In last year’s second place, Arriva achieved a turnover of £2.8bn. The company is expected to be a strong contender for one of the top spots again this year.

Growing income from buses and trains pushed both Go-Ahead and Arriva into the top three last year.

Other previous winners – Proctor & Gamble (eight times), Barratt (once) and Associated Co-operative Creameries (twice but taken over since) – no longer qualify.

The first ever list comprised of 50 names compared with today’s 200. And while a number of firms have dropped off the list over the last 35 years, companies that made the first league table could be in the new one, exclusively in The Journal.

Will any of last year’s big climbers go even higher? How will long-standing names on the league table fare? Only time – and many hours of intensive analysis of financial accounts – will tell.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer