A TOP tea manufacturer, a creative digital agency, a boutique bowling alley and a gaming software supplier are among the companies celebrating after triumphing at the Tyneside and Northumberland Business Awards.
Organised by the The Journal and its sister paper The Gazette, the first heat of the North East Business Awards saw more than 340 people gather together for a black-tie event at the Marriott Hotel in Gosforth, Newcastle.
And as NCJ Media managing director Stuart Birkett declared in the opening speech of the night, there was much to celebrate.
The annual competition, held in association with the North East Chamber of Commerce, shines a light on the last year in businesses large and small, celebrating their successes.
In a ceremony hosted by TV presenter Kim Inglis, a total of 12 awards were given to the winners, with AAF International – a world leader in air filtration and acoustic solutions – taking the coveted Company of the Year title at the climax of the evening.
The Cramlington business started out in 1966 as a small operation predominantly serving customers in the North East
Jump forward almost half a century and the firm has shown great ambition to become a global organisation, serving customers around the world.
Part of Japan’s Daikin Industries, the firm has recently overtaken a rival firm to become the number one in the gas turbine filtration market having adapted to become a solutions driven company, with over 70% of its sales now exported.
Employing almost 300 people at its Northumberland base the firm’s turnover has increased year-on-year to top £70.7m in accounts for 2013, making it a true story of North East success.
Business development director James Ross, whose brother also works at the business as construction manager said: “We are a company that operates in international markets but winning this award helps us focus the business.
“Just to be recognised as a finalist is an achievement.”
Despite working around the globe, Mr Ross said the firm is very committed to its North East roots.
He said: “The centre of excellence is the North East. We have a factory in Cramlington and the things we do in Asia and South America all stem from what we do there.”
Other finalists in the Company of the Year category were commercial law firm Muckle LLP and Ryder Architecture, both Newcastle-based.
Earlier in the evening Jenny Volkers of Indigo Crow accepted the Green Award on behalf of Caroline Stewart, director at Bari Tea Brewery, based in Alnwick, Northumberland, which is not just a contemporary tea brewery but also an online tea merchant.
Mrs Volkers said: “Caroline will be over the moon with this award. It takes a lot to run a shop and cover the environmental side as well as Bari Tea does just that.”
Hexham-based Egger UK took the Manufacturing Award, which delighted financial director Bernd Steinlechner.
“Egger has had its manufacturing operation for 30 years and we have invested a lot of capital into a state-of-the-art technology and now have one of the most advanced wood panelling factories in the world.
“This award is a big thank you to the workforce because without them it would not have been achievable, and it proves that our strategy to continuously invest in people and machinery is working.”
Family firm Ringtons has never entered the North East Business Awards, so director John Malton was especially pleased that the Heaton-headquartered’s heady doorstep delivery service made it an obvious choice to scoop the Services Award.
The business serves more than 50,000 customers in the North East, and thousands more across the UK through its 300 employees within the doorstep delivery division, which has been a winning formula since the firm first started this service more than 100 years ago.
Mr Malton said: “We see the customers on average every two weeks and it’s these relationships that are the glue of the business.”
Leading construction business The Owen Pugh Group, which operates from five sites, is emerging well from the recession despite operating in a tough market.
Group chairman John Dickson collected the firm’s trophy as winner in the Let’s Grow category, saying: “It’s a very tough market we are in but we are doing okay and the future is looking brighter than the past, and we are looking forward to more growth created in 2015 than 2014.”
Lane7, Newcastle’s boutique bowling alley which opened at the end of 2013, has created a palpable from its launch through the internet, inviting in bloggers and social media leaders to help create a buzz.
Since then it has used Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to great effect.
Founder Tim Wilks said: “We’ve only been in operation for a little over a year but the concept 21st century 10-pin bowling has clearly struck a chord with the North East, and this award just affirms that.”
British Engines triumphed in the Apprenticeship Award after judges heard about its Apprenticeship+ scheme which was launched in 1966, ensuring young people are trained to a high level, enabling them to move into a wide choice of careers in the business.
Chief operating officer Richard Dodd said: “We’ve had a very forward thinking view on apprenticeships and the people who have gone through the scheme are right through the business, right up to senior management – and to us it’s the cornerstone of our business and it’s one of the reasons we are able to do what we do, and able to be as successful in the work that we have.
“This award is as much the apprentices as it is the business’s.
Gosforth-based Bede Gaming was set up a little over two years ago by Daniel Smyth, but the software business is already beating global players to big contracts.
The firm currently employs around 120 staff but it’s in the middle of setting out plans for expansion following its recent contract win with UK gaming giant Rank Group Plc, which will see its gaming platform used by Rank’s Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca Bingo brands.
A move to Great Park is also on the cards.
Founder Daniel Smyth was particularly pleased to take him the Newcomer of the Year trophy, after an extremely busy time for him and the team.
“I have always said everybody bleeds Bede at our place, and this is validation of that – it’s brilliant.”
Ahead of the presentation of the awards, NCJ Media Ltd managing director Stuart Birkett made an impassioned speech in which he said the North East has much to celebrate, but issued a word of caution, calling for the business community to work together to ensure the region does not get left behind as other areas secure devolution settlements.
He said: “Things are looking up for the economy in the North East and we’ve got a great deal to be proud and confident about. But, the North East still faces a number of challenges.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge is that of potentially being surrounded by countries and regions that have been very successful in gaining meaningful devolution of spending powers from government.
“The generous devo-max settlement for Scotland and the slightly unexpected devo-Manc arrangements for Greater Manchester are being shaped almost as we speak.
“Whilst a great deal of work is going on behind the scenes, our plans for the North East aren’t at such an advanced stage.
“Whatever you think about the politics behind regional devolution, it’s vital that the North East isn’t left behind and that everyone in business and politics locally works together in the best interests of the region to present a confident and ambitious united front.”
All the winners in this sub-regional final go through to the regional final, together with those from the Teesside final and the Durham and Wearside final, with the grand final taking place at Hardwick Hall in Sedgefield in April.
The list of winners in full:
Green Award – Bari Tea Brewery
Manufacturing Award, sponsored by University of Sunderland – EGGER (UK) Ltd
Export Award – Mactech Engineering and Inspection
Let’s Grow Award, sponsored by FW Capital – Owen Pugh Group
Digital and Social Media Award, sponsored by Sintons LLP – Lane7
Heart of the Community Award, sponsored by Arch Group – Port of Tyne
Apprenticeship Award, sponsored by Northumberland College – British Engines
Services Award – Ringtons Ltd
Innovation Award, sponsored by GE Oil and Gas – Orange Bus
Newcomer of the Year, sponsored by Virgin Money – Bede Gaming
Small Business of the Year, sponsored by Bernicia – Cleardata Ltd
Company of the Year, sponsored by Port of Tyne – AAF International