No family firm has ever headed the North East Top 200 in all the table’s 35-year existence, and while few of us would expect history to be made this year, strength of the family business as a commercial institution must never be underestimated.
Family businesses provide 25% of the UK’s gross domestic product, and in our region Benfield Motors for some years now has set a particularly brisk pace – listed as Addison Motors. It rose another place last year to 17th, since when it has boosted chances of rising another two or three paces through its 30% rise in latest annual turnover, thanks partly to successful acquisitions. Benfield acquired the North East Audi dealerships of Colebrook & Burgess, and though closing its own Wetherby and Morpeth dealerships, it still thrives on the strength now of 34 dealerships in the North East, Cumbria, Yorkshire and South West Scotland.
Chief executive Mark Squires heads the firm of 1,500-plus employees in succession to his father John Squires, who last year was named Lifetime Achiever in the North East Business Executive of the Year Awards. He in turn had succeeded his father John Squires, who founded the company in 1957.
A tiny little backstreet garage then, it could now finish top once more of all the private and family-run businesses that get into this year’s Top 200.
Fenwick Ltd, the UK’s largest independent group of department stores – 11 in all – finished second top among family and private businesses last year and looks expansive, planning to open its first store in more than a decade. This fits into a regeneration scheme for Bracknell in Berkshire, where a Waitrose has already opened. A Fenwick opening there would be the first that the 131-year-old Newcastle group has seen since opening in Canterbury 11 years ago.
Two Teesside firms should figure highly again. Gibson O’Neill’s international tank container business Bulkhaul is confident of maintaining progress despite recession and a regular subsidy to Middlesbrough Football Club, where Steve Gibson, founder of Bulkhaul in 1981, is chairman.
Also on Teesside, the Cleveland Cable Company benefits from an £8m contract that saw it cabling every aspect of London’s 2012 Olympics. This largest cable supplier in the UK had the lion’s share of this vital work, and a stampede of other orders has followed.
The top five of last year’s privately owned and family companies was completed by Reece Group, the Newcastle defence specialist, whose revenues are now boosted by taking over Responsive Engineering of Gateshead.
Responsive has 170 workers on three Gateshead sites, engaged in high precision computer machining, specialised welding and fabrication, cutting, pressing, assembly and testing. It rides on the oil and gas market’s success. Reece Group, one of Britain’s top 200 companies with fastest growing overseas sales, comprises several other innovative operations too.
These include Pearson Engineering and Pearson Engineering Services, prominent not only in defence but also in subsea and construction. Other family and privately owned companies expected to bed into the table include Danesmoor (PWS Distributors) which for more than 30 years has provided kitchen components and door and window furniture from Newton Aycliffe. Simpsons Malt of Berwick also (founded in 1862) rose nine places to 48th last year and continues to trade profitably in malted barley for the brewing, distilling, and food industries home and abroad.
Both British Engines and Kilfrost will be in the picture. Reports surround Kilfrost of a £50m deal linked to opening a factory in Kazakhstan, where it has had relations for 15 years. Newcastle based Kilfrost supplies a third of the world’s de-icing fuel for aircraft.
Valve manufacturer British Engines, also of Newcastle, is recruiting apprentices at a rate suggesting a confident future.
Look out also for Stockton based Clinkard Group, whose revenues from shoe retailing and distribution have risen nearly 4% to £34.3m.
It may not be long, either, before Newton Aycliffe manufacturer Ebac enters the list.
This market leading maker of dehumidifiers and chillers hopes soon to be selling 80,000 Norfrost chest freezers a year following its rescue of the collapsed Icetech Freezers business. It also plans to revive the manufacturing of washing machines in Britain. The new list of North East Top 200 Companies will appear exclusively in The Journal on October 30.