Cambridgeshire's top 100 companies in 2018 revealed - and their turnover and profits have grown strongly
Grant Thornton and Mills & Reeve's Cambridgeshire Ltd study shows Brexit uncertainty hasn't prevented encouraging performance
Cambridgeshire’s top 100 businesses of the last year have been named in a report that reveals they have enjoyed double-digit growth in turnover and profits.
The annual Cambridgeshire Ltd study, compiled by business and financial advisers Grant Thornton in partnership with law firm Mills & Reeve, demonstrates that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has not prevented the county’s largest companies from what it calls “an enviable level of sustainable growth”.
With a combined turnover rising 10.3 per cent to £10.7billion and earnings (EBITDA) up 16.7 per cent to £780million, the top 100 have continued to invest, with two thirds increasing the number they employ.
But there is work to do: Cambridgeshire remains geographically divided, with the success of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire’s economies not shared by Fenland.
And the success of the Cambridge region is not translating into equivalent scores for health, wellbeing and happiness.
Report author Paul Brown, director at Grant Thornton’s Cambridge office, said: “In 2017, we saw strong growth with the rewards of previous investments paying off. The challenge for business leaders was to carry this forward.
“The 2018 results clearly demonstrate that Cambridgeshire’s leading companies are indeed delivering, consistent, sustained growth.
“There have been some acquisitions during the year but much of the turnover increase has been achieved organically as companies extend their market share, product or service offering or generally benefit from higher levels of activity. Growth is also, on the whole, well spread across companies, underlining the vibrancy of Cambridgeshire’s diverse economy.”
More than 100 business leaders gathered at The Cambridge Belfry in Cambourne this morning (Thursday) to hear the results of the study, which uses reported sales.
Unveiling the top 100 list, Mr Brown said: “There are 13 new names which demonstrates how dynamic our county is.”
He said the companies on it now account for 40 per cent of the £25billion gross value added for the Combined Authority area.
It now takes turnover of just under £20million to get on the list, which features only those companies that have their principal place of business and management in Cambridgeshire, excluding those with overseas ownership.
Biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is building its global HQ and R&D centre in Cambridge, has a turnover of $22billion and net assets of $17billion, so it is excluded from the financial analysis because of the disproportionate effect it would have.
Marshall of Cambridge heads the list, with the reorganisation of its motor group in particular leading to major growth.
Hilton Food is in second, while the highest rate of growth - 104 per cent - was reported by DB Broadcast Holdings, the only company that more than doubled turnover.
Some 94 of the top 100 are profitable, two more than last year, and 61 per cent of them have grown profitability.
Cambridge Commodities, which imports and distributes raw materials for sport nutrition and weight loss products from its base on Lancaster Way Business Park in Ely, reported the highest rate of profit growth - an enormous 2,800 per cent.
The top 100 increased their workforce by 6.3% - 2,935 jobs - to 49,263 people.
The business support services sector remained the largest employer, with numbers growing 9.3 per cent to 10,792 people.
Food and beverage witnessed the biggest intake of people, up 11.9 per cent to 10,649 people. Only land and rural sector now employs fewer people - shrinking 6.2 per cent to 2,823 people.
Cambridgeshire Ltd comprises eight sectors. With 22 companies, the technology sector had the highest number in the list, generating £1.3billion of sales and the highest profit margin of 15 per cent. This was followed by consumer and wholesale markets, with 19 companies. While these two generated the highest profits, the automotive and food and beverage sectors were the largest by revenue.
Cambridge leads the way in Cambridgeshire Ltd in terms of turnover (£4.076billion), earnings (£310million) and employee numbers (14,404). Its economy is ranked first out of all 324 local authority areas in England in Grant Thornton’s Vibrant Economy index.
South Cambridgeshire is eighth in this index and its workforce enjoys the highest average pay in Cambridgeshire, at £43,200 - a full £5,000 higher than that in Cambridge.
Huntingdonshire is 79th in the index, but is in the top 20 per cent nationally for health, wellbeing and happiness, areas in which Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire perform worse than average.
“We are doing well for ourselves,” Mr Brown told guests at The Belfry, “but we’re just not enjoying it.”
East Cambridgeshire is 144th out 324 local authority areas while Peterborough is 164th, although it has the highest number of companies in the top 100 list, and they enjoyed the biggest earnings increase at 31 per cent.
Fenland lies towards the bottom of the table, coming 268th and reporting a fall in profits and people.
Another key area for Cambridgeshire’s businesses to work on is boardroom diversity. While 22 per cent of UK directors are female, in Cambridgeshire the figure is just 17 per cent and this is down on the 19 per cent recorded in 2017, with only two new female directors joining.
Only seven per cent of Cambridgeshire Ltd directors are not British, and there are only nine from EU countries.
Mr Brown told the audience at The Belfry: “Cambridgeshire Ltd has what I would call, rather kindly perhaps, a mature boardroom.”
Some 74 per cent are aged over 50 which the study notes might reflect the number of serial entrepreneurs and family business owners.
Two directors are in their 90s, Mr Brown noted.
He reported that Cambridgeshire Ltd also appears “well-advised”, with companies taking advantage of schemes like R&D tax credits, VGTR and patent box claims to bring down their tax bill by 17 per cent. The effective tax rate this year for the top 100 was 17 per cent - down from 28 per cent in 2017.
There was improvement in credit control, with debtor days down from 56 to 53, while Cambridgeshire Ltd’s historically low finance costs have fallen a further two per cent, while borrowing increased modestly by four per cent.
Cash deposits grew 15 per cent to £910million and net current assets grew 85 per cent.
Profits have largely been retained too, with shareholder funds growing 27 per cent to £2.1billion.
The study notes: “Overall, there is a strengthening of the balance sheet and a move towards improving liquidity. Is this a sign of businesses with an eye on future uncertainty, or just good working capital management? It is probably a little too early to tell.”
Productivity per person was up four per cent to £218,000 but profit generated per person saw more impressive growth of 13 per cent.
Last year, wages rose above the rate of inflation. This time around, they only kept pace with it, rising three per cent.
Mr Brown concluded that the last year has seen “another impressive performance by our county’s businesses”.
He said: “Cambridgeshire is an exciting place to be and whilst there are many pressures in the logistics and infrastructure of our county, we are seeing businesses thrive.”
Stephen Hamilton, partner at Mills & Reeve’s Cambridge office, added: “Generally, performance was strong across the county and reflects our ‘Defying Gravity’ report which shows how businesses that have thrived through a decade of disruption are different in three key ways – they are fearless about growth, they do not pause too long in the face of change and they are confident in their ability to find the right sources of finance.
“We have great examples of these businesses across the region and the Cambridgeshire Ltd report clearly demonstrates this.”
The Belfry audience also enjoyed the insights of Adam Jackson, head of public affairs and Brexit advisor at Grant Thornton.
With ministerial resignations racking up even while he was speaking following Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s announcement of the proposed Brexit deal, Mr Jackson predicted: “Seeing a parliamentary way through is looking really, really difficult.”
He advised businesses to make plans for a range of scenarios now, and added: “Waiting at this stage for certainty from politicians is probably not a good idea.”
But the leaders of Cambridgeshire Ltd look to be better set than most to weather whatever’s coming after another year of high achievement.
Cambridgeshire’s top 100 businesses
• 1 AstraZeneca PLC*
• 3 Hilton Food Group PLC
• 4 BHL (UK) Holdings Limited
• 5 G’S Group Holdings Limited
• 6 Vindis Group Limited
• 7 Napp Pharmaceutical Holdings Limited
• 8 PRO CAM Europe Limited
• 9 Abcam PLC
• 10 Hutchinson Group Limited
• 11 George Thurlow And Sons (Holdings) Limited
• 12 Produce Investments PLC
• 13 Ridgeon Holdings Limited
• 14 Mick George Limited
• 15 Russell Burgess Limited
• 16 Camelot Topco Limited
• 17 Mundipharma Research Limited
• 18 Xaar PLC
• 19 AK Retail Holdings Limited
• 20 Quixant PLC
• 21 Amino Technologies PLC
• 22 Lawrence David Limited
• 23 Hexagon Investment Holdings Limited
• 24 J.B Shropshire & Sons Limited
• 25 Welding Institute (The)
• 26 John Henry and Sons (Developments) Limited
• 27 Gardeden Topco Limited
• 28 Anglia Components Limited
• 29 F.P. Smith (Holdings) Limited
• 30 Mundipharma International Limited
• 31 Princebuild Holdings Limited
• 32 Kershaw Group Limited
• 33 Friar’s Pride Limited
• 34 Comtec Group (International) Limited
• 35 Chivgate Limited
• 36 Roe Bros. & CO Ltd.
• 37 Bidwells LLP
• 38 BWP (Cambridge) Limited
• 39 G.& J.Peck Limited
• 40 J.E. & V.M. Dalton Limited
• 41 Cashflows Europe Limited
• 43 Science Group PLC
• 44 Baker Perkins Holdings Limited
• 45 Fenmarc Holdings Limited
• 46 Brookgate Limited
• 48 DB Broadcast Holdings Ltd
• 49 Adcock Refrigeration And Air Conditioning Limited
• 50 Creightons PLC
• 51 TOY Brokers Holdings Limited
• 52 Murkett Brothers (Holdings) Limited
• 53 Frontier Developments PLC
• 54 Cambridge Commodities Limited
• 55 Alan Bartlett & Sons (Chatteris) Limited
• 56 The Excell Group Limited
• 57 Systemsaccountants Holdings Limited
• 58 Hales Group Limited
• 59 Business Control Solutions Group Limited
• 60 Darktrace Limited
• 61 Elektron Technology PLC
• 62 Frederic Smart & Son Limited
• 63 Secure Home Purchase (2015) Limited
• 64 E - Leather Limited
• 65 Secure Group Limited
• 66 Raspberry PI Foundation
• 67 Chiltern Cold Storage Group Holdings Limited
• 68 Cambridge Broadband Networks Limited
• 69 Ubisense Group PLC
• 71 Anglia Home Furnishings Holdings Ltd
• 72 Flo-Mech Holdings Limited
• 73 Quartix Holdings PLC
• 74 RGE Engineering Limited
• 75 Knowles (Transport) Limited
• 76 G S Shropshire Holdings Limited
• 77 Clarksteel Holdings Limited
• 78 Brady PLC
• 79 Car World (Cambs) Ltd
• 81 Avingtrans PLC
• 82 Green Energy Options Ltd
• 83 Alboro Holdings Limited
• 84 Rapidrop Global Limited
• 85 Scotsdale Nursery And Garden Centre Limited
• 86 Abzena PLC
• 87 Horsforth Holdings Limited
• 88 Escape Fitness Limited
• 89 International Direct Packaging Limited
• 90 Firstan Holdings Limited
• 91 M.J.S. Holdings (March) Limited
• 92 I Go 4 Ltd.
• 93 Miers Construction Products Limited
• 94 Ellgia Holdings Limited
• 95 P.C. Howard Limited
• 96 Nason Davis Holdings Limited
• 97 The Lettuce Company Limited
• 98 Wilkinson Healthcare Limited
• 99 ASL Technology Holdings Ltd
• 100 Masteroast Holdings Limited
More by this authorPaul Brackley