North East Business Executive of the Year Awards 2014: Search for the Durham & Wearside champion

We speak to 2013 Durham & Wearside winner Peter Walls, Gentoo group chief executive, as we look to find his successor this year

The search for the region’s top executives gathers apace.

And today we focus on the search for the talented and inspiring individual to win the Durham and Wearside Business Executive of the Year Award.

The accolade is one of several delivered to the shining lights of the region’s business community at our prestigious North East Business Executive of the Year Awards.

On the grand night, three winners are announced, from Teesside, Tyneside and Northumberland and Durham and Wearside, before all three go head-to-head to be crowned overall winner.

Run by The Journal in association with The Gazette in Middlesbrough, the awards recognise the great role models of the business world who have led their companies to fresh achievements over the previous 12 months.

And last year, the Durham and Wearside crown went to Peter Walls, group chief executive at Sunderland-based Gentoo, who was especially delighted to win.

He said: “I was obviously delighted to receive such prestigious recognition.

“Since I have been attending the event for some considerable number of years I am particularly pleased that Gentoo in a very competitive business sector may well be the first not-for-profit business to receive such an award.

“I was further astonished to be asked to be Regional Business Ambassador for HRH the Prince of Wales which has made this year clearly extra special and I look forward to bringing together these two prestigious accolades to enhance the impact of Business in the Community and to further the cause of responsible business.”

Gentoo started out as a former council housing department but Walls has developed the business into a diversified “profit for purpose” property group, whose £175.2m turnover for 2013 lifted it 11 places to 36th in last year’s North East Top 200.

Walls was initially a junior executive at Washington Development Corporation and later became director of Sunderland’s council housing services.

Sunderland Housing Group was first formed in 2001 from the council housing division of Sunderland City Council, with a vision to become a people and property business as opposed to a straightforward housing association.

Rebranding itself to Gentoo in 2007, the firm has grown to become well respected landlord, developer and social investor under Walls’ guidance, working in more than 25 local authority areas across the UK. With 1,900 staff, it is Sunderland’s sixth largest employer and it also stands 21st in The Sunday Times Top 100 companies to work for,

Besides building, letting and selling homes, Gentoo is also involved in regeneration, repair and maintenance, environmental improvement and sustainability and has helped start 250 businesses since 2004 and also an academy, whose board Walls chairs.

Walls has also chaired Two Castles Housing Association for 10 years, and the Northern Consortium of Housing Authorities for seven years.

As well as ensuring Gentoo is a rewarding employer, Walls is also committed to helping people onto the housing market, having created what Gentoo believe to be a way out of the mortgage crisis, which is now being rolled out across the country following the formation of a partnership.

Gentoo’s Genie home purchasing scheme, devised by Walls, has been heralded as the perfect solution to the crisis which has seen millions of people turned down by banks and building societies – a way for young people and those without a cash cushion to get onto the property ladder.

Walls added: “I think this award validates and shows that “responsible business” is every bit as critical in the 21st century as some of the more conventional measures we have seen in the business sector.”

The two runners-up in the Durham & Wearside catergory were Stephen Learney, managing director at Haskel Europe, and Helen Smith, chief executive at Washington-based Oil Consultants.

Journalists

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