More than 200 people from companies of all sizes and sectors turned out at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light for the 2014 Top 200 breakfast.
The event - organised by The Journal and The Gazette in partnership with Newcastle University Business School - seeks to highlight the achievements of the region’s best performing businesses.
This year the list included 22 new entries, while 18 companies jumped a total 20 places or more. There were a total of 14 non-movers, with seven in the top 20, and four companies with fewer than 12 staff.
For the fourth year running, Nissan, of Sunderland, took the top spot, employing 6695 people and recording a staggering £4.96bn turnover.
The company’s finance director John Butcher said: “I’d like to thank everybody who works at Nissan - the people without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today.
“I’d also like to pay tribute to our suppliers in the North East, without whom Nissan’s success story would not have been possible.”
He pointed out that in a single year, the company had launched three cars - the Leaf, the Note, and the Qashqai, which was thriving on the European market.
“We’ve produced 300,000 a year, making it a great British success story,” Mr Butcher said. “It’s designed the UK and built right here in Sunderland by the fantastic Nissan workforce.
“Our success is not only down to the products but the people and we hope we’ll continue to be one of the largest companies in the North East for some time to come.”
In the private equity-backed business category, R&R Ice Cream PLC of Northallerton placed the highest, with a turnover of £565.9m and a 3,057-strong staff headcount.
Group HR director Peter Pickthall said: “This is the third time we’ve won this award and I think that reflects the fact that we’re a Northallerton-based business that’s continued to expand.
“As we look to the future, we envisage a continuation of what we’ve been doing, along with the further development of the business. We believe the North East is an excellent place to be based and to do business in.”
Addison Motors Ltd was the highest ranked privately owned business. The Newcastle firm has a turnover of £622.4m and 1,591 employees.
Jason Smith, head of fleet sales at the company, said: “This means a huge amount to us. We’re a family-run company that’s born and bred in the North East. We’re proud of our heritage, we’ve worked very hard to put back into the community and this award is one small recognition of that.”
Newcastle’s Go-Ahead Group PLC took the award for top PLC, raking in an annual turnover of £2.57bn and employing 25,563 people.
Collecting the award on behalf of the group was Kevin Carr, managing director of Go North East, who said: “We’re delighted to receive such an accolade, which is recognition of all the hard work that has been put in by staff.”
This year’s highest climber was Fine Industries Ltd, of Stockton, which has a £41.02m turnover and 275 members of staff on its books.
Operations director Lee Kingsbury said: “We’re incredibly proud to receive this recognition, which is testament to all the hard work that everyone at Fine Industries has put in over the last 12 months. We also have a great investor in NorthEdge Group.”
Finally, Testerworld Ltd, in Prudhoe, which employs 150 people and records a turnover of £85.72m, was named highest new entry.
The company underwent a £37m management buy-out around a year ago, led by managing director Mark Gulliford and finance director Andy Wilson.
Mr Gulliford said: “We are very pleased to receive this award. We’ve been in the North East for 28 years and without the hard work of the staff, we wouldn’t be here today.
“I would also like to thank all our customers, especially those in the North East, and say a big thank you to Sintons who made the management buy-out of the company possible.
“Since then, it’s been business as usual. We’ve still doing very well, being on track for double digit growth this year. We also have big plans in place to expand.”
The Top 200 breakfast also featured a discussion, chaired by Graham Robb of the Institute of Directors North East, on how the region should move forward in light of an increasingly powerful Scotland, post-referendum.
On the panel were John Elliott, chairman of the Ebac Group; Ross Smith, the North East Chamber of Commerce’s director of policy; Richard Farr, a partner at Sanderson Weatherall; and John Craggs, deputy chief executive of Gentoo Group.
Introducing the event, Journal editor Brian Aitken praised the “ability, grit and determination” of companies in the region, adding: “This morning is about celebrating success.”
The Top 200, he said, provided a useful barometer of the region’s economic wellbeing, while giving a diverse range of businesses the chance to come together.
On this year’s list, manufacturing - a sector for which the North East was well-known - was well-represented. Other sectors, such as life sciences, petrochemical and transport, however, also appeared to be shining, Mr Aitken said.
The Top 200 list was compiled with support from PwC.
Category sponsors included East Coast, Sintons Law, Greggs, Gentoo and Brewin Dolphin.