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Thames Valley 250: Award winners underline strength of the region’s businesses

By Tim Wickham
19 November 2021
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Winners of the 12th annual Thames Valley 250 awards have been celebrated at a special dinner. Overall, the 250 businesses in the listing employ well over 100,000 people and their combined sales exceed £26 billion.

Hosting the awards ceremony, Richard Thompson, Managing Director of Black Ox, publisher of awards organiser The Business Magazine, commented:

“This is one of the most important regions in the UK in terms of contribution to the economy. It has proved resilient in the past 18 months as businesses were forced to adapt almost overnight to new working practices, including limited contact with colleagues and client alike.”

The listing comprises the top privately-owned businesses (by turnover) headquartered in the region, which is defined as Oxfordshire, Berkshire, West Surrey, North Hampshire, and parts of Buckinghamshire. The awards returned after being postponed in 2020 owing to Covid-19.

Guest speaker Mat Lintern, Global CEO at MMR Research Worldwide, gave an enlightening run-through of how his company had handled Covid-19 and adapted as a result. Many in the room agreed with his comment that the pandemic had been a change agent, with new technology driving different ways of working.

One message he has emphasised to his staff is "be responsive and we will trust you". Lintern added that when MMR recently polled staff about what mattered most to them the top three answers were sustainability, diversity and mental health - priorities not directly connected with the bottom line.

The Thames Valley 250 is sponsored by BDO, Gateley Legal, Nouveau Solutions and Dowgate Wealth. The awards were held at Easthampstead Park, Wokingham, on 18 November.

And the winners are…

CEO of the Year (over £50m) – sponsored by Gateley Legal

Winner: Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja, Sun Mark

“We tried to adapt as quickly as possible to the changing environment. Our experience of Covid-19 didn’t begin with the first UK lockdown: we started to see it when business in China was cancelled. For us, it was a question of asking how we can best carry on because everything is not okay. It became so much more about planning and forecasting. We were constantly changing our plans, for example, some product routes became pointless during the pandemic. We had to think harder about what we do so we continue to be the best we can be.” Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja

Judge’s comments: “The winner has helped grow his family business from a relatively small FMCG distribution business to one which now has a presence in over 110 countries and is flying the flag for the best of Britain. Through his leadership, the company has achieved an impressive £130m turnover and most recently secured a management backed investment to take the business to its next phase of growth.”

Finalists:

• Arun Bala, invenioLSI

• Jeremy Nash, Centerprise International

• Simon Thake, Rebound Technology Group

CEO of the Year (under £50m) – sponsored by Gateley Legal

Winner: Sean Taylor, Redwood Technologies

“We have always relied on having a close team who get on well together. During the pandemic, we kept the connection with video stand-up meetings first thing each morning. Ironically, this brought teams closer together and it makes you more aware of everything that’s going on across the business. But we found we missed human contact so now we’re mixing things up, with people coming in two or three days a week. I don’t always expect to see high productivity - interconnectivity is also important. We are hiring aggressively, increasing our headcount by about 20%-30% per year, but after the culture change we have seen in the business I can’t see us going back to the old ways of working.” Sean Taylor

Judge’s comments: “The winner has enjoyed tremendous growth over recent years, driven by the increasing adoption of cloud services by enterprise and the public sector. A dominant player in the UK market, he now has his sights set firmly on the US with a growth strategy in place aimed a turnover of £1bn in five years’ time. He is a pillar of the Thames Valley community and serves with numerous charitable and voluntary organisations.”

Finalists:

• William Barrett, Francis Construction

• Stephen Brazier, Aquinna Homes

• Andrew Brimson, KHIPU

Fast Riser Award – sponsored by Gateley Legal

Winner: Rebound Technology Group

“It has been a fabulous last 18 months for the business but we have gone through a difficult time with Covid-19. We were not used to people working from home but everyone has come through this and have all worked hard. That is the reason why we are where we are today. A threefold increase in turnover was a mix of pandemic-led demand and a lot of it relates to the new customers we have developed over the last few years. This has given us momentum and we have added almost 100 staff in the last year because we knew we had to invest in people to keep growing. All this investment is now bearing fruit.” Steve Madley, Managing Director

Judge’s comments: “The winner has recently tripled its turnover following a boom in sales. Its growth was fuelled by the pandemic, as customers around the world demanded its products just in time. However, it was their quality and service that separated them from the competition.”

Finalists:

• CV Library 

• Southern Communications 

• Vanderbilt

Innovation Award – sponsored by BDO

Winner: Xtrac

"The automotive industry is currently in a transition period from internal combustion engines to hybrids and electric vehicles. As a transmission supplier, we are right at the forefront of that transition. A lot of our work is on electric vehicles for motorsport or high-performance cars and in 2020 we received a Queen’s Award for Innovation for our lightweight electric vehicle gearbox. Our work didn’t stop during the pandemic and our factory stayed open. Motorsports paused for a few months, but Formula One and NASCAR in the US soon came back. We also scaled up our production capability to make thousands of components for Covid-19 ventilators.” Adrian Moore, CEO

Judge’s comments: “Our winner scored strongly in all areas, demonstrating their passion for innovation, and providing evidence of successful innovative projects, with both short- and long-term objectives. Not only have they made an impact within their own industry, but they’ve also shown remarkable agility and compassion, helping in the fight against Covid-19 by providing masks to local care homes and participating in the Ventilator Challenge UK initiative.”

Finalists:

• Centerprise International

• Roc Technologies

• Ticketer

International Business Award – sponsored by BDO

Winner: invenioLSI

"We have invested in growth, especially in the US with a major acquisition that has enhanced the business. We immediately won three or four public sector customers there and we are also expanding in the Middle East and across the globe. Our focus during the pandemic has been on our staff and it has always been on employee care, especially through our academy. Our philosophy is to invest in people and engage with customers.” Arun Bala, Group CEO

Judge’s comments: “The winner has a proven track record in their international markets, demonstrating strong growth and high performance, and are becoming the clear market leader in their field. This vision-driven organisation ensures consistency in quality with a robust recruitment process that invests in staff development, as proven by the implementation of their academy and ensuring a clear progression path for each employee.”

Finalists:

• ESP Global Services

• KHIPU

• Rebound Technology Group

• RH Amar

• Sun Mark

Special Recognition Award – sponsored by Nouveau

Winner: BAP Pharma

"My priority has been to continuously motivate staff. We have had to think of new ways of doing this and making ourselves accessible. And we have looked for alternative solutions to grow the business during the pandemic. For example, with many countries taking a nationalist approach and not sharing vaccines we have had to look for different markets, including the Far East and Latin America. We have introduced two new divisions to the business and achieved record growth of 50% last year. We are looking to grow 40% next year.” Bashir Parkar, Founder

Judge’s comments: “We were very impressed with their overall strategy and leadership quality and skills were demonstrated across the business. In a highly compliant and regulated industry, they demonstrated a clear vision to build trust with their customers and look for solutions with customer excellence as their end goal.”

Finalists:

• Blue Sky Intermodal

• Southern Communications

• Xeretec

• Xtrac

Owner-managed Business – sponsored by Dowgate Wealth

Winner: Redwood Technologies

“Supporting the local community has been a key driver since the very beginning for me. There’s always time pressure at work and outside work but I have always wanted to do something in the voluntary space. I think for our younger staff this is also a really big thing. It’s what we look for on job applicant resumés. It ticks a box for us as volunteering is part of the company ethos. It’s an easy win because it is so important to many people today.” Sean Taylor, CEO

Judge’s comments: “Sean Taylor and his team have done a fantastic job over the last 25 years of growth through their hard work. They also do a tremendous amount for the local community, so very much deserved the owner-managed business award.”

Finalists:

• Blue Apple Contract Catering

• KHIPU

Leadership Team of the Year – sponsored by Dowgate Wealth

Winner: Sun Mark

“The pandemic forced a lot of things to happen more quickly than expected. We pulled in a lot of new IT as soon as possible. An SAP implementation was also going on and we had a mass outbreak of Covid-19 at the company. We had to get people trained in new technology as fast as we could so we could carry on working. And it made us realise that we could no longer work the way we used to. In addition, we had been working on a major investment as my family sold the business. One of the key things for me has always been helping everyone to fulfil their potential.” Harmeet ‘Sunny’ Ahuja, CEO

Judge’s comments: “We were fascinated to hear about how Sunny Ahuja and his team had dealt with Covid-19 lockdowns at a time when they were putting in all their new systems. We think Sunny should be recognised for his great leadership style.”

Finalists:

• Centerprise International 

• invenioLSI

• Reading Transport

• Xtrac