Solent 250 listing 2019

The Solent 250 campaign has a new sponsor – with CMA Recruitment Group joining the line-up of supporters of the annual listing and associated events, run by The Business Magazine.

The Solent 250 lists the top 250 companies headquartered in the Solent region, ranked by turnover. Each year there is a dinner, awards and roundtable discussions.

CMA joins HSBC UK, professional services firm RSM and law firm Irwin Mitchell as sponsors of the campaign.

Commercial director Richard Dibden said: “CMA Recruitment Group is delighted to be sponsoring the Solent 250 campaign in 2019. As a long-established recruitment firm and the south’s leading independent accountancy & finance, executive and HR consultancy, we work closely with many companies on the 250 list and we look forward to making new introductions and helping to support even more businesses throughout the region.

“As we have offices in Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, and Basingstoke, we feel the Solent 250 is a perfect fit for us, and we are excited to be involved in this initiative.”

Solent 250 awards highlight region’s exceptional businesses

The Business Magazine’s annual awards dinner for Solent 250 companies demonstrated the breadth of entrepreneurial businesses in the south, and provided guests with an evening of entertaining speakers.

Over 80 guests attended the dinner and networking event at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, on 2 April, to celebrate top businesses in the Solent and South Coast region. The listing is compiled by The Business Magazine.


Sponsors HSBC UK, accountants RSM, law firm Irwin Mitchell and CMA Recruitment Group, judged 30 finalists across six categories.

Speaking on behalf of the sponsors, Richard Dibden, commercial director, CMA Recruitment Group, said: “What is very apparent about the Solent 250 is there are some exceptional businesses in our region, from the widest possible variety of sectors. We are truly blessed by the businesses, entrepreneurship and talent we have within our region.”

Guest speaker Ben Dowd, who was appointed CEO of Onecom last November, talked about the Fareham-based business telecoms provider’s ambitious expansion plans. Onecom is number 45 in the Solent 250, with sales up from £68.9m to £82.8m.

After 22 years at O2, Dowd chose Onecom partly because he wanted a new job that “offered fun”. Onecom also has the added advantage of no external shareholders, and a ‘can do’ culture that enables quicker decision making.

He said one of his first tasks was to distil Onecom’s business vision down to four key words: independence, partners, customers and people.

“It’s always about our people first,” he emphasised. “That will filter through to how we work with our customers and partners.”

The other guest speakers were RSM’s Simon Hart, the firm’s lead Brexit partner, and its chief economist Joe Brusuelas.

The duo provided a highly entertaining and thought-provoking snapshot of the possible implications of the UK leaving the EU. Earlier on the day of the awards dinner the UK government had added to the ongoing uncertainty by asking the EU for a further extension to the Brexit deadline,

Hart and Brusuelas suggested possible scenarios for how trade deals might be structured and what the UK’s future relationship with the US might look like. The audience shared their views on key Brexit questions via an interactive online Q&A.

The Solent 250 award winners are…

Ones to Watch



AT Jones


Judges’ comment

This new category focused on fast-growing businesses with turnover below £20m. The winner has shown impressive financial growth in the past 12 months, through the delivery of several high profile local contracts, and is led by a strong management team. What gave this company the edge was its eye to the future, and the importance placed on stewardship of the company through the creation of a ‘junior’ management board, mentored by the directors.

Barry Beesley, managing director, AT Jones, said: “We were surprised and very pleased to win. Over the past few years we have invested heavily in our people, especially our junior management board. We achieved Investors In People Gold at the first attempt, which is almost unheard of in the construction industry. Our people will be our success in the future.”

Other finalists

CPG Logistics

MSP Capital

Redwood Global

The West Group


CSR Award of the Year



Hobbycraft Group


Judges’ comment

Our winner demonstrated that its sustainability commitment is woven into its culture and has led to real positive change across the judging criteria. We were impressed with this business’s commitment to reducing waste and its market leading strides towards 100% reusable, recyclable, compostable packaging by 2021. We also liked how the drive to reduce waste is linked to its commitment to up-cycling and making the communities they are in better.

Stuart Macdonald, Head of Global Sourcing, Hobbycraft, said: “We are delighted and extremely proud to have won the CSR Award of The Year. We take our position as a responsible retailer seriously and are committed to looking for sustainable ways for our customers to craft and ways we can support our charity partner, skill up the nation and support our local communities.”

Other finalists

Lush Cosmetics

Simplyhealth Group

Siva Group

Trant Engineering


Leaders in Digitalisation



Trant Engineering


Judges’ comment

Our winner was in some ways unexpected. It is a large, local family business that for a number of years has seen technology and innovation as a way to set itself apart. A business that has developed a market leading virtual reality offering to enable customers to ‘step into’ a newly designed scheme before even breaking ground, and has transformed and digitalised its project management and document management systems.

James Henderson, director, Trant Engineering, said: “We developed a virtual reality model of our products when we didn’t have time to produce a prototype in a tender for a United Nations project. We already used 3D and Building Information Modelling. We have integrated VR into our manufacturing processes and it helps clients get a sense and feeling about the product without having to go through the prototype stage.”

Other finalists


Lush Cosmetics

RB Sport and Leisure (Ageas Bowl)

Simplyhealth Group


Growth Story of the Year



Charles Trent


Judges’ comment

Our winner had a great growth story to tell. They are a family-owned business working in a very traditional sector that has radically changed its business model to focus on core areas, which has led to significant growth (up 46% last year). Renowned in the sector for innovation and market leading customer service, they are regarded as a ‘family business with corporate processes and attitude’, completely revolutionising the sector norm.

Marc Trent, managing director, Charles Trent, said: “We were surprised to win, especially given such strong competition in this category. Our success is down to three main things: we know where demand is, we know where the cars are, and we look after our customers. We have a great team of 200 very loyal staff and this win is for them.”

Other finalists

23.5 Degrees

Hendy Group

Highwood Group of Companies

SHB Hire


International Business of the Year


Colt Group


Judges’ comment

The winner’s organisational strategies are built bottom up, with their staff and customers at the centre of everything they do. There was clear collaboration between their international operations. Key to their international success has been defining a group culture, which enables them to build local operating cultures and be seen as ‘local’ businesses in the territories within which they operate.

Mark Oliver, CEO, Colt Group, said: “Each of our country business units is seen as being local, rather than British, with local management who follow and implement group strategy. Collaboration between countries has always been important, for example, our UK and German operations are supporting a plant being built in Slovakia. Around 80% of our turnover is from outside the UK, so we are delighted to be recognised by this award.”

Other finalists

Blakell Europlacer

CT Automotive

Formaplex Group



Management Team of the Year



Knights Brown


Judges’ comment

We were impressed by the way our winning business has developed a culture of collaboration, teamwork and engagement, led from the top. This passionate approach to workplace culture has led to a retention rate significantly under the industry standard. This business develops innovative ways to use certain products in the construction industry, delivering award winning projects and, ultimately, impressive financial growth this year of approximately 30%.

Guy Hardacre, managing director, Knights Brown, said: “I was surprised and delighted to win. We have a very strong management team and I’m really proud of them. We focus strongly on collaboration and teamwork. The leadership team is only about 8 or 10 out of a workforce of 200, so all of our people are important and this award recognises them. Our business is all about our people.”

Other finalists

Lucketts Travel



Shorefield Holidays

Hampshire: Solent 250 companies hear from HSBC’s top economist

Guest speaker Mark Berrisford-Smith, head of economics at HSBC UK, shared his views on the impact Brexit is having on the UK economy at a networking event for Solent 250 companies.

The Solent 250 is an annual listing featured in The Business Magazine and sponsored by HSBC, advisory and accountancy firm RSM, law firm Irwin Mitchelland specialist recruitment group CMA Recruitment.

The event was held at the Eastleigh showroom of car dealership the Hendy Group, where Mark Busby, commercial director at the Hendy Group, welcomed Solent 250 guests.

He said: “It’s been a huge year for our business. We are celebrating 160 years and recently completed a fairly large acquisition. That now gives us 23 franchises from Exeter to Eastbourne.”


Brexit divisions

A brief hiatus in Brexit developments was about to end said Berrisford-Smith: “Nothing much has happened since April, but it will start again in June.”

From being largely absent in UK general election debates, the question of Europe is set to be a main topic of conversation for a generation.

Berrisford-Smith said: “Europe will be the issue that divides the country. It won’t be about left and right. It will be about how you stand on Europe.”

Economic impacts

While we may be stuck in “Brexit purgatory”, the economy was coping. “Fortunately, the economy seems to be moving along in reasonably good form,” he observed.

As well as Brexit, another significant threat could be the trade war between the US and China.

“Optimism on a US/China trade deal evaporated after the latest Tweets from the White House and we are now looking at trade tariffs ratcheting up,” said Berrisford-Smith. “In the end, that will cause both the US and China’s economies to slow down.”

He drew a parallel between the US/China trade impasse and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

“The volume of trade between the US and China fell by about one tenth when tariffs were introduced. This is a good proxy for the situation between the UK and Europe in the event of a no deal and trade tariffs being imposed,” he said.

From left: George Weston of CMA Recruitment Group, Anthony Reed of HSBC, Hannah Clipston of Irwin Mitchell, Peter Laurie of The Business Magazine, economist Mark Berrisford-Smith, Mark Busby of Hendy Group, and James Tetley of RSM

Well stocked?

Economic growth in the UK of 0.5% in the first quarter of 2019 was, in part, due to companies stockpiling ahead of the original Brexit date of March 31.

“Firms have spent millions of pounds putting goods in to stock, which isn’t great for their cashflows. Financial directors up and down the country are now getting twitchy, asking to run down stock levels to release cash,” said Berrisford-Smith.

“The question is, should businesses reduce stock levels if a no deal Brexit could still happen?” he added.

Much focus has been on companies building up their inventories but this wasn’t the key driver of economic growth in the first quarter.

“It was something rather more mundane,” said Berrisford-Smith. “It was ordinary Brits going out shopping.”

The shock to sterling immediately after 2016’s vote to leave the EU has worked its way through the system and consumers are feeling more confident. Their earnings are increasing at a faster rate than inflation, so living standards are rising.

“But unfortunately, consumers are not spending on big things, like cars and houses,” he noted.

What happens next?

Berrisford-Smith thought the Bank of England was unlikely to raise interest rates any time soon. That means the outcome of Brexit is the major unknown that will affect the value of sterling.

“The fact that sterling is stable is not a symbol that markets are taking Brexit in their stride and aren’t bothered by the outcome,” said Berrisford-Smith. “Markets will react when there is more certainty on what the outcome is going to be.”

Although we’ll be stuck in Brexit purgatory for a while longer, Berrisford-Smith gave a fairly upbeat view on the economy.

“Growth in the next few quarters is unlikely to be at the 0.5% level we saw in quarter one, but the economy can keep growing. I don’t see any reason why consumers will stop spending, so long as there is a decent gap between inflation and earnings growth.

“This suggests economic growth of around 1.5% for the year is possible – no slower than 2018. Given what’s going on politically, that’s probably not a bad outcome for 2019.”