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The Business Magazine July 2024
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Solent SME Growth 100 award winners revealed

The Business Magazine CEO Richard Thompson
The Business Magazine CEO Richard Thompson
1 March 2024
The Business Magazine CEO Richard Thompson

A diverse range of Solent businesses were honoured at the Solent SME Growth 100 dinner and awards for their commitment to driving the region’s economy.

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The Halo lounge at Southampton FC’s St Mary’s Stadium played host for the evening, providing the finalists, sponsors and guests with a great networking opportunity.

Richard Thompson, Managing Director of The Business Magazine, said: “Cumulatively, these fast-growth companies employ more than 10,000 people in the region and generate a turnover of more than £1.5 billion. This ranking is a testament to the vibrancy of the region that we live and work in.”

Several industries stood out this year. Around 15% of the fastest-growing companies are in construction and related services, a further 15% are in manufacturing and engineering, with 10% in IT and 10% in the automotive and marine sectors.

Jo Whittle, Operations Diretor at The Business Magazine, thanked the finalists for their “willingness to get involved and for readily opening your doors to our judges and sharing your stories. Your passion and enthusiasm for what you do make judging these awards extremely difficult.”

The Business Magazine Operations Director Jo Whittle
The Business Magazine Operations Director Jo Whittle

She also thanked the sponsors of the Solent SME Growth 100 listing. They are SME Capital, Cobweb, Chilworth Partnership and Evelyn Partners.

Guest speaker for a 'fireside chat' with Richard was Jamie Noble, Founder of Noble Company Holdings. He talked about the company's rapid growth in the infrastructure sector, where it works in areas as diverse as offshore wind farms and hotels.

Jamie Noble gives a fireside chat
Jamie Noble gives a fireside chat

The company is one of the few that provides rope access work for abseiling down structures to carry out maintenance and repairs, which takes less time to do than setting up scaffolding around a building to work from. From first year turnover of £24,000 in 2021, it is now a million-pound business.

Jamie also set up a training company to give people from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, a chance to make a career. He plans to expand the training side of the business further across the UK.

His advice to other business owners is “don't deviate from your first goals”. He reinvests profits back into the business or gives it to charities. “It's easy enough to make money but it's also easy to help other people come through,” he said.

For Jamie, the most satisfying part of running a business is the support he can give to others – being able to “change someone's life for the better.”

The evening then moved on to the awards. And the winners are...

International Business of the Year – sponsored by Evelyn Partners

Winner: Spinlock

“From the outset, the company was set up for international business in safety-critical and other accessories for the sailing market. There are sailors around the world and about 88% of our revenue comes from overseas, with the US our largest market at 25% of revenue. We started in the leisure marine sector and in recent years have been growing in commercial marine, for example, wind farms. We have expanded production at our assembly facility in Cowes to meet demand and our team has grown to 60 people. We were delighted to win a King's Award for Innovation as the award is well regarded around the world.” Caroline Senior, Operations Director, Chris Hill, CEO, Spinlock

Judges’ comments: “This is a business with an impressive global presence, generating the majority of their revenue outside of the UK. They have invested heavily in their production facility to enable continued strong growth in both existing and new markets and they also won the King’s Award for Innovation in 2023.”

Finalists:

• A.J Wells & Sons

• Mar-Key Group

• Pascoe International

• Vikoma International

Most Outstanding Finance Team of the Year – sponsored by Chilworth Partnership and Venture Recruitment Partners

Winner: boatfolk

“Finance teams are integral to every business and for an SME they are especially important. What makes it so enjoyable to work here is that you aren't doing the same thing every day and each day is different. That helps us to attract and retain people. We try to involve as many people as we can in as many projects as possible to make their work more varied. We use automation and digitalisation for process improvements and have made huge steps forward here. Contrary to a lot of businesses, our finance team is office-based five days a week. This fosters a really good team spirit and stronger relationships. Having an office overlooking Southampton marina also helps.” Jack Callaghan, Head of Finance, boatfolk

Judges’ comments: “The Finance team has made great strides over recent years and now boasts low staff turnover with a good mix of experience and qualification levels. There are clear development opportunities within the team. Investment in technology and embracing automation and digitisation techniques has allowed the team to adapt with the continued growth of the business.’

Finalists:

• SMS (Southampton Marine Services)

• HIPPO (Waste Management Services)

• Langmead Herbs

• Saltus Partners

Leadership Team of the Year – sponsored by Cobweb Solutions

Winner: NMSB

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we took one of our main products – sand – and created a specialised product for the sports market, such as football pitches and golf clubs. This enabled us to diversify and be more recession-proof. Ours is a male-dominated industry, although more women are coming into it, and we have focused on men’s mental health issues. We’ve done a lot of training on this, have mental health first aiders and we partner with a charity focused on the construction industry and men’s mental health. Our leadership team has also gone through mental health training. Another initiative is our employee engagement programme that sees staff putting forward ideas that we aim to deliver on.” Suzanne Wright, Marketing Strategy Director, NMSB

Judges’ comments: “Our winner has shown true diversification through their flexibility during Covid-19, investing in other horticultural industries and markets. With an epidemic on men's mental health at the moment, and with the winner having a high volume of men in their workforce, we felt they humbly took the initiative to understand this problem and strive in the right direction to focus on this issue in their company culture. Away from the business, they support many local charities and communities, such as the IOW and Hampshire Trust.

Finalists:

• Caspian ONE

• Paragon Education & Skills

• Paris Smith

• Spinlock

Owner-managed Business of the Year – sponsored by SME Capital

Winner: A.J Wells & Sons

“Our company culture and ethos are based around the family. We are Christians and this plays a big part in what we do, how we treat people and how we run our business. We are now in the second and third generations and feel that if the next generation were to come in and take the business on that's fine but we know everyone will have their own paths to tread. As children, we got involved and helped out, which was part of our growing up. We are innovating by developing clean burning technology to improve the efficiency of and reduce the emissions from our wood-burning stoves. We are also developing new products, like our outdoor kitchens and building cladding. We're always open to people's ideas in the company and always willing to give things a try - that's what gives us a buzz.” Guy Wells, Operations Director, A.J Wells & Son

Judges’ comments: “Founded in 1972 and still proudly family-owned, this business really impressed us with the value it places on its company culture, and the way it transforms lives and delights customers, making it an excellent place to work and leave a legacy beyond any one generation of ownership. They have a focus on innovation in both of the key markets which they serve, and are at the forefront of sustainability developments.”

Finalists:

• AJ Wells & Sons

• Caspian ONE

• Fence Stores

• Spinlock

• Tailor Made Technologies

Fast Riser Award – sponsored by Evelyn Partners

Winner: Mar-Key Group

“Our 95% growth in the last two years has come from diversifying our business model – previously we focused mainly on events and now we do a lot of commercial work – and driving our international business. Moving to new premises has greatly increased our capacity. We are looking to grow sustainably at around 20% per year. We are also benefiting from private equity fundraising. We’re growing but also maintaining a fun, 'family business' ethos which is us all over, so this award is for our whole team who we’re really proud of.” Hannah Field, Group Brand and Marketing Manager, Jade Carpenter, Chief Commercial Officer, Mar-Key Group

Judges’ comments: “Our chosen winner is well deserving, and their financial growth speaks for itself, with 95% growth over the last two years. They have a 5% market share in the UK, with an ambitious growth plan for international expansions. Following a recent fund raise, and a strong management team, we got a clear sense they will deliver on their growth plans. Fun with a family business ethos, focus on culture and quality.”

Finalists:

• Boatfolk

• Dolphin Motor Homes

• Fence Stores

• Saltus Partners

Growth & Resilience Award – sponsored by Chilworth Partnership & Venture Recruitment Partners

The final accolade was a surprise award that the judges felt was thoroughly deserved for a company that has shown impressive growth and resilience during a challenging period.

Winner: Langmead Herbs

“Our growth has been by doing the hard yards. Anybody can grow revenue in the world of produce – the really difficult thing is making a profit out of it because our large retailer customers are adept at driving their own margin so our challenge is how to make money out of that. Our success has also been around heavy investment in the latest technology and from our finance team tracking the impact of inflation on our supply chain and passing price rises on to customers in a transparent and fair way. Scale and efficiency are other big factors, as is being a sustainable business. Finally, ‘people first’ is an abiding principle in our group and is why we have the best team in the industry.” Ashley Hawarth, Finance Director, Langmead Herbs

Judges’ comments: “They only entered their market in 2012 and have gone from a £13,000 turnover business in 2019 to an impressive £23m turnover in 2023, with ambitious plans to treble this over the next few years. Despite being in a sector which was hard hit in the Covid-19 years, they have become resilient to rapidly changing market conditions. They have adapted their ways of working to robustly deal with the impact on pricing for their business and the consumer, with ever-changing inflation rates. In many ways, we felt as though this business has gone above and beyond to survive and grow.”


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