Britain’s 100 largest private companies with the biggest sales are revealed in the latest Sunday Times BDO Top Track 100, published for an eleventh year this weekend.
Despite the recession, four fifths of the companies on the table increased sales in their latest results compared with the previous year. Combined sales grew 7% to £183bn, profits (ebitda) held steady at £17bn and the companies added 27,000 jobs during their latest financial year taking their total workforce to 963,000. The companies’ combined debts, however, remained high at £92bn.
Almost three quarters of the companies operate internationally, including conglomerate Swire (No 6), which runs eight Coca-Cola bottling plants in China and Hong Kong, and owns a stake in Cathay Pacific Airways; Clarks (No 29), which operates in 35 countries, and generates more than half of its £1.4bn in sales overseas; and Hanover Acceptances (No 100), which is one of Africa’s largest fruit growers and has sales of £617m.
The top company again this year is Alliance Boots, which reported sales of £25.4bn and profits of £1.6bn. Its 12% growth in the past year is in large part also due to expanding operations overseas. Last week, the company’s owners, private-equity firm KKR and executive chairman Stefano Pessina agreed to sell a 45% stake to Walgreens, the US’s largest pharmaceutical retailer. The table also includes employee-owned businesses, such as John Lewis (No 4) and engineering consultant Mott MacDonald (No 41), and family-owned businesses such as JCB (No 10) and Dyson (No 61). New entrants to the table include B&M Retail (No 80), which runs a chain of discount stores, and Partnership, a life assurance specialist (No 60).
The top company again this year is Alliance Boots, which reported sales of £25.4bn and profits of £1.6bn. Its 12% growth in the past year is in large part also due to expanding operations overseas. Last week, the company’s owners, private-equity firm KKR and executive chairman Stefano Pessina agreed to sell a 45% stake to Walgreens, the US’s largest pharmaceutical retailer.
The table also includes employee-owned businesses, such as John Lewis (No 4) and engineering consultant Mott MacDonald (No 41), and family-owned businesses such as JCB (No 10) and Dyson (No 61).
New entrants to the table include B&M Retail (No 80), which runs a chain of discount stores, and Partnership, a life assurance specialist (No 60).
Paul Eagland, Head of Audit and Tax Services at BDO, the title sponsor of the league table, commented: "Despite concerns over the health of the national economy, the strong performance of the biggest private companies in the UK shows what can be achieved by management teams that have clear vision and ambition.
"The companies have proven their resilience and adaptability, against a backdrop of the eurozone crisis and reduced credit availability. By delivering a service-led approach in both domestic and international markets, they continue to generate the growth so keenly needed."
The best represented sector is services with 33 companies, followed by retail with 29. The remainder split as follows: manufacturing (14), wholesale (13) and construction (11).
Wholesalers fared best with combined sales in the sector up 16% in the last financial year, which was in large part due to sales increases at Greenenergy (No 3) and Stemcor (No 5), which both grew sales 22%, to £11.9bn and £6.3bn respectively.
The construction sector is still facing difficult trading conditions with a 2% increase in sales to £11.6bn, but an 18% drop in profits to £564m, showing that margins are being squeezed. Sales at John Laing (No 79) dropped 25% to £718m, and at Laing O'Rourke (No 8) they fell 2% to £3bn.
The manufacturing sector experienced a 7% fall in sales to £31bn, but this was almost exclusively the result of a £4bn drop in sales at INEOS, the chemicals manufacturer ranked at No 2. Of the 14 manufacturing companies on the table, 10 managed to increase their sales, the largest being the £700m added by construction equipment maker JCB (No 10).
45 companies on the table are backed by private equity, showing the importance of this ownership category to big, private businesses in Britain. They include Merlin Entertainment Group (No 56), which operates visitor attractions worldwide, and is majority-owned by Blackstone and CVC, and bureaux de change operator Travelex (No 86), which is owned by Apax and founder Lloyd Dorfman.
Most of the companies are headquartered in Greater London (31) and the Southeast (24), and nearly a fifth (18) have headquarters in the Midlands. The remainder are split as follows: Northwest (9), Southwest (6), Scotland (4), Northeast and Yorkshire (4), East (2), Wales (1) and Northern Ireland (1).
For the full league table, see the special eight-page supplement with the Sunday Times on 24 June and on www.fasttrack.co.uk.
Notes to editors
Fast Track has published league tables of Britain's top-performing private companies with the Sunday Times for the past 16 years. Its invitation-only dinners provide a valuable opportunity for entrepreneurs to network and meet its sponsors. The company was founded and is run by Dr Hamish Stevenson, who also holds an associate fellowship at Green Templeton College, Oxford University.
League table criteria
Companies are ranked by sales as reported in their latest available accounts, or more up-to-date figures as reported directly to Fast Track by the companies. Companies have to be registered in the UK, unquoted, and not subsidiaries. Companies may have their ultimate holding company offshore.
Companies with fewer than 100 employees are also excluded, as are not-for-profit companies, cooperative societies, member-owned buying groups, mutual societies, provident associations, and partnerships such as lawyers and accountants. The research was carried out by Fast Track between 1 March and 1 June 2012, and included visiting some of the companies.
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