Top 200, 2014: North East family firms fly their flag

A major talking point in the new Top 200 list, to be published exclusively in The Journal on October 22, will again be how the previous year's top private companies performed

Mark Squires, chief executive of Benfield Motor Group, outside the new £7 million Audi dealership on Scotswood Road, Newcastle
Mark Squires, chief executive of Benfield Motor Group

Despite much talk of globalisation, family businesses right across the world remain a powerful force, comprising 70-95% of the companies in many nations.

In Britain they make up 66% of all small and medium enterprises and total almost three million, providing 14.2% of total Government revenues.

Understandably, then, they figure significantly among private businesses featuring annually in the North East Top 200 – and this year, given their customary advantages of flexibility and internal loyalty, will be no exception.

A major talking point in the new Top 200 list, to be published exclusively in The Journal on October 22, will again be how the previous year’s top private companies performed. That will mean Addison Motors (Benfield Motor Group), department stores group Fenwick, two Teesside companies – Cleveland Cable and bulk haulier Gibson O’Neill – as well as Esh Holdings at Bowburn.

Benfield Motor Group, an independent, family-owned business rooted in the North East since start-up in 1957, is today one of the largest and best known private companies across the North and recently had a new opening in Sunderland. With 30 dealerships in the North East, Yorkshire, Cumbria and South West Scotland, it led family and other private firms on the list last year at 14th.

It has had another good year. Chief executive Mark Squires says the Newcastle-based group is investing heavily in consumer-led strategies to improve customer service and the over-all consumer experience. This will surely show up in the new ratings.

Fenwick, an even older North East family institution (going back to 1882) will have had a challenging year like many retail operations of all sizes as it defends 26th place. But its reputation for quality and service will have counted for a lot among its loyal customers.

Cleveland Cable and Gibson O’Neill are defending 28th and 33rd places respectively.

Esh Group, holding 37th place, has shaken off miseries of recession that blighted civil engineering and construction and could be a climber this time round. It is creating 70 new posts, 20 of them in management, to augment its 1,000-strong workforce, and plans to double the size of its business in Yorkshire.

However, already in April it stepped up operations in Cumbria and the Scottish borders with the acquisition of Border Holdings and Border Construction. It will be interesting to see whether this happened early enough to have bearing yet on its seventh place currently in the table.

Similarly, the staycation trend in holidays has not halted progress for Hays Travel at Sunderland, which could rise above its 48th place. It is benefiting sharply through further developing the technology behind its Hays Faraway, Hays Cruise and Hays Travel Tour Operating businesses.

Hutton Chemicals, whose six employees formed one of the smallest workforces on last year’s list, is defending 38th place from a difficult position. A Guisborough-based petrochemical specialist in aromatics and paraffins, it sees Western imposed sanctions tightening around Russia, where its links with other companies are close.

But with companies like British Engines, J Barbour & Sons, Reece Group and Kilfrost all in this frame too, interest in the privately-owned/family-run business category award of the Top 200 is considerable, and this particular category is being sponsored by Sintons Law Firm.

Karen Simms, partner and head of company and commercial, says: “As a firm proud to be based in the North East, and who works with many of the leading businesses within it, we are delighted to be a sponsor of the Top 200. Much anticipated, the Top 200 will again highlight the outstanding work being done across so many sectors of our region.”

Get your company noticed

Companies must have their latest full-year results at Companies House before the end of this month to be considered for inclusion in the North East Top 200.

Top 200 breakfast

The Top 200 awards breakfast will be at The Stadium of Light, Sunderland, SR5 1SU on Tuesday, October 21, from 7.30am-10.30am.

To reserve tables or tickets at the business awards breakfast where Top 200 presentations will be made - or for any further information - contact Abbi Aitken, events manager, on telephone 0191 201 6166 or email

Tables of 10 are available at £300 plus VAT and individual tickets are available at £35 each plus VAT.

The package includes the awards presentations, refreshments, full English breakfast, networking and Question and Answer panel to discuss the impact of the result of the Scottish referendum.



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