Top 200: Foreign-owned firms among the top players

You can understand why an appeal has gone out for private-sector firms to try harder in persuading more foreign businesses to join them in the North East

Northern Powergrid is part of MidAmerican Energy Holdings and was listed in 2012
Northern Powergrid is part of MidAmerican Energy Holdings and was listed in 2012

You can understand why an appeal has gone out for private-sector firms to try harder in persuading more foreign businesses to join them in the North East.

Five companies among 14 leading the North East Top 200 of last year are inbound businesses - that is, owned by an overseas corporate.

Investments from beyond the region like these - and there are many more among the 200 - can inject large revenues into the regional economy, create much-needed jobs for the UK area with the highest unemployment and often stimulate exports.

Some inbound businesses are established directly from overseas. Others come through acquisition. Either way, the spread is global when you pinpoint their ultimate parents, indicating the universal suitability of the North East for enterprise.

Top company Nissan was set up from scratch at Sunderland by the Japanese. DB Arriva, the trans-European public transport giant, currently second, was once the late Sir Tom Cowie’s indigenous motor sales business, again in Sunderland. German transport giant Deutsche Bahn acquired both it and Tyne and Wear Metro.

Durham-based Northumbrian Water, currently seventh, passed into foreign hands through sale to a Hong Kong Chinese consortium of Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings, Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Li Ka Shing Foundation.

Newcastle’s Northern Powergrid Holdings, a US flagbearer in 10th spot, in effect has replaced the Northern Electric once prominent in the 200. The American successor owns a distribution network for the North East and much of eastern England.

Top 200

Northern Powergrid is part of MidAmerican Energy Holdings, itself ultimately owned by the American tycoon Warren Buffett through Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett’s is the voice investors ignore to their cost, considered widely as he is to be the world’s shrewdest investor of recent years.

The fifth leading inwardly-invested Top 200 company is 14th placed Swedish-owned kitchen retailer Nobia Holdings, formerly Magnet, at Darlington. The appeal for greater effort to secure more externally-sourced businesses has been made notably by the North East Chamber of Commerce.

In a recent inward investment report, compiled with Eversheds law firm, it stresses how their presence can often benefit other firms of our region, particularly those able to enter supply chains subsequently set up. Some such suppliers are then able themselves to appear more prominent in the Top 200.

Any new jobs created thereby complement 52,000 that the Big Foreign Five already provide directly, many here in the North East. Other foreign participation is seen among the leading 50 names of the Top 200, such as Lotte Chemical UK at Redcar, currently 17th, automotives manufacturer Gestamp Tallent at Newton Aycliffe, one place lower at 18th, and Sabic UK Petrochemicals of Redcar, standing 22nd.

Lotte makes polyester intermediates on a former ICI site at Wilton that had already undergone ownership change. A subsidiary of Lotte Group, one of South Korea’s largest corporations (global sales $45bn-plus annually), Lotte UK also exemplifies the opportunities that an inbound investment can offer North East managerial talent.

When its Korean chief executive retired prematurely in 2010, the business director there, Mark Kenrick, who’d some 25 years’ experience in the Teesside chemical sector, was promoted - the first non-Korean ever appointed a chief executive by the group.

Gestamp Tallent came under German giant ThyssenKrupp before Gestamp Automocion of Spain purchased it in 2011. Sabic of Saudi Arabia bought petrochemicals and aromatics facilities at the Wilton International and North Tees chemical complexes on Teesside in 2006. Now this belongs to one of the world’s top six petrochemical companies, one claiming also to be the largest non-oil company in the Middle East.

All these companies will be prominent again when the new North East Top 200 appears exclusively in The Journal on October 30.

So too will Japanese owned Unipres (UK) at Sunderland, presently 36th, and Darchem, the US-owned engineering and protection systems manufacturer at Stillington, Teesside. Darchem recently announced a £12.6m turnover rise to £75.4m, which could in theory hoist it 15 places up-table from 97th.

Exact spots they’ll fill are now being calculated. But one thing is certain: many other companies - including new entrants - will be in the reckoning.



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