ONE of the best-known and best-loved companies in the region was last night named North East Company of the Year 2012.
Bakery giant Greggs’ chief executive Ken McMeikan was cheered as he picked up the top title in the nebusiness Awards 2012.
The Newcastle company, currently heading a battle with the Government over the “pasty tax,” was given the award after seeing another year of extraordinary growth.
Greggs, which has more take-away outlets in the UK than any other firm, took the top prize at the awards organised by The Journal and the Evening Gazette on Teesside, in association with the North East Chamber of Commerce.
Last month the company, one of the region’s best-known, unveiled plans to create 800 jobs as it continues to expand its business by adding another 90 shops to its 1,571-strong nationwide chain.
It is one of few large retailers to beat the high-street slump and this month reported record annual sales of £701m in 2011 and profits of more than £52m.
Under chief executive Ken McMeikan it has added more strings to its bow over the last year with a link-up with store chain Iceland to sell frozen sausage rolls in the UK and abroad, open outlets at motorway service stations and roll out a new chain of Greggs Moment cafes.
And although it is a company with a national profile it has always been proud of its North East roots. Its works extensively to support the community, as is exemplified by its popular breakfast clubs for school children.
It narrowly beat the two other finalists: fast-growing Tekmar Energy, the Newton Aycliffe firm which develops and makes parts for the offshore energy sector and Stockton-based car parts maker Nifco UK, last year’s winner, which is strongly growing its international business and this year opened a massive new factory.
Greggs was just one of 11 businesses that took a top prize in their category at the ceremony at the Hardwick Hall Hotel in Sedgefield last night. There were more than 80 finalists covering a wide range of sectors, including the smallest start-ups to some of the biggest industrial names in the North East.
They epitomise the entrepreneurial drive, innovation, financial acumen and ambition that characterises the region’s dynamic economy and will inspire many more companies in these challenging times.
All the finalists at the awards regional final had been picked following sub-regional heats covering firms from Tyneside & Northumberland, Durham & Wearside and Teesside. There was a big rise this year in the number of entries to the largest and most prestigious award for companies in the region.
Simon Edgley, managing director of the Journal and Evening Gazette, said: “There is, right here, a spirit and commitment that I have seldom seen the life of elsewhere.
“The passion and enthusiasm that people demonstrate in the business achievements of the region, coupled with a remarkable sense of pride in the community is a wonderful thing indeed.
“A testament to this enthusiasm is not only clearly demonstrated by the quality of the entries this year but also what is really pleasing is that entries are up a staggering 54% many of which are from companies that have not entered before. If ever we needed proof that the North East economy is thriving, here it is.”
Guests were entertained by an amusing speech by guest Gerald Ratner whose candid remarks on his jewellery shop chain Ratners 20 years ago is still remembered as a symbol of corporate suicide.
He told how his career had recovered as he built up an American business from scratch which now has more than 1,000 shops and Gerald Online, the largest online jewellery business in the UK.