An awful lot can happen in 15 years. For example, just around the time that the first Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 was launched in 1998, a couple of Stanford University students decided to set up their own company.
Fifteen years on, the business which the pair – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – started up now has assets worth $94bn and brought in a healthy $50bn of revenue in 2012.
While the North East is yet to replicate the success of Google, the region has nurtured and developed its fair share of business winners over the years, many of them featuring in the Ward Hadaway Fastest 50. The event was established in 1998 by law firm Ward Hadaway in association with The Journal with the aim of highlighting business success and achievement across the region.
By identifying profit-making privately-owned companies with the highest average growth in annual turnover, it was hoped that the Fastest 50 would act as a stage for showcasing the best in North East enterprise and generate a positive message about the region’s economy.
The message which came out of the inaugural awards was to become a familiar one – when it comes to engineering, manufacturing and the offshore industry the North East is truly a national powerhouse.
Armstrong Technology Associates – a Wallsend-based company formed by members of the design team at Swan Hunter shipyard – won the overall award after clinching contracts in the offshore and gas industry.
The other inaugural winners were engineering group Bywell Holdings and manufacturer Isocom Components, who won fastest growing large and medium companies respectively, with engineering consultancy Utility Technical Services winning the fastest growing small company award.
These first awards also demonstrated the knack of the Fastest 50 for picking out enduring success. Eleven years later,
Bywell Holdings – now known as SMD – was crowned as fastest growing large business and fastest growing overall business in the 2009 Fastest 50 and has gone on to further success.
SMD is also not the only repeat winner in Fastest 50 history. Bannatyne Fitness was a winner in both 1999 and 2000 while another arm of the Bannatyne empire, Bannatyne Hotels, won the overall title in 2006.
Durham’s Rivergreen appeared in both 2002 and 2003, Control Mesure Regulation (UK) Ltd of North Tyneside was a winner in 2007 and 2009 and Wilton Engineering performed a rare feat to walk off with awards in successive years - 2010 and 2011. Alongside this continuity, the Fastest 50 has also borne witness to the changing tides in the North East economy over the past 14 years.
For example, professionals services sector and leisure businesses have seen their influence grow and the range of the winning companies over the years – from food wholesalers to nursery providers – demonstrates the rich variety in North-East business.
While a North East Google has yet to be spotted, the Fastest 50 has developed quite a knack for picking out stars of the future on their way up. Previous winners have included The Engineering Business – now part of the multinational IHC Merwede Group – and Eaga Partnership, which is now a part of FTSE 250 support services and construction giant Carillion plc.
As well as attracting the attention of the wider business world, the Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 has also seen some big hitters appear at awards ceremonies over the years.
In 2010, Business Secretary Vince Cable MP appeared as keynote speaker, praising the event as “a very positive occasion”, and emphasising the importance of companies such as those in the Fastest 50 in determining the success of the UK’s recovery from recession.
Lending political balance to proceedings, NThe winners of this year’s Fastest 50 awards - backed by The Journal and sponsored and organised by Ward Hadaway - will be revealed at a ceremony on October 4.
The definitive list of the Fastest 50 growing companies in the region for 2013 will be published in The Journal later this month.