Thirty one directors from private companies with combined sales of £54.2bn, profits of £5.4bn and employing 306,192 people gathered in London last night for the first in our series of four Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100 directors’ networking events, co-hosted by senior representatives from our sponsors, HSBC, PwC and Linklaters.
Our straw poll suggests that confidence in trading conditions over the next 18 months has declined, however, on balance the guests were still optimistic about their prospects.
The impact of technology on the way Britain’s biggest private companies provide their goods and services, and require their employees to work, was the focus of a pre-dinner roundtable discussion for directors from the 18th annual Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100 league table.
The 31 directors, from Top Track 100 companies such as 2 Sisters Food Group, John Lewis Partnership, Mace, Moto, and Nando’s, were asked how confident they were about their companies’ prospects over the next 18 months. Sixty percent said they were optimistic despite the uncertainty over Brexit, although this was down from 75% at this same dinner in 2018.
All the companies were congratulated for their success in achieving a place on the 2019 league table. Patrick Lewis, group finance director at John Lewis Partnership, the largest company in the room with sales of £10.3bn and profits of £637m was presented with his company’s award certificate by Fast Track’s founder, Hamish Stevenson, who co-hosted the dinner.
Patrick Lewis spoke for many when he highlighted how the 155 year-old retailer is re-positioning itself to meet the challenge from digital.
Four guests spoke to us about the opportunities they see for their businesses, particularly in harnessing digital technologies.
Cathy Travers, managing director UK & Europe at Mott MacDonald, said her business was increasingly using data to better understand the performance of critical infrastructure and advise governments on how best to invest. She explained how the firm has integrated digital technologies to provide data that will help its clients make informed decisions about their assets.
Quentin Naylor MBE, managing director of Language Connect, which is part of the fast-growing retail and technology firm The Hut Group, highlighted how developing its own technology platform had given the group an edge over its rivals, and also allowed it to more effectively localise its services in overseas markets. He talked about their international expansion and how to target and execute growth opportunities in other countries.
James Hill, director of Quorn, the meat alternative producer, and a former CEO of Top Track 100 alumnus Findus Group, described the rapid growth in demand for its vegetarian and vegan meat substitute and the challenges it faced in grasping the opportunity to expand, “all my career, I’ve been struggling to sell what I knew I could produce and now in Quorn I’m actually struggling to produce what I know I can confidently sell.”
John Clark OBE, founding shareholder and chairman of Scottish car retailer John Clark Motor Group, said that while resolving Brexit would lift the uncertainty that had dampened new car sales in recent years, he was confident his company could grasp new opportunities, particularly around electric and hybrid vehicles.
At our pre-dinner roundtable, senior directors from 14 Top Track 100 companies discussed the opportunities they see in their markets and the challenges they face.
Sharon Quinlan, Head of Corporate Real Estate at HSBC UK, facilitated the discussion and explored how the companies were tackling advances in technology and impact of digital disruption on their businesses.
A word from our sponsors
The dinner was also co-hosted by senior representatives from our Top Track 100 title sponsor HSBC, and main sponsors PwC, and Linklaters, as well as Oliver Shah the business editor of The Sunday Times, our media partner.
The companies’ achievements were recognised by Sharon Quinlan, Head of Corporate Real Estate, HSBC UK, who said: “You are all fantastic examples of British private companies making waves here in the UK and overseas. You are shrugging off the uncertainty and pushing forward your plans.”
Oliver Shah, business editor of The Sunday Times, raised a glass to the companies’ success and highlighted their important role in the economy. “You are the job and wealth creators,” he said.
Suzi Woolfson, UK Private Business Leader at PwC, picked up on this theme as she congratulated the companies on their success. “The reason you are successful is that you all take a long term view, you are thoughtful, and have purpose and vision,” she said.
Iain Fenn, Senior Corporate Partner at Linklaters, said he and his colleagues were proud to have supported the Top Track 100 for the last five years and highlighted how private companies were having to rapidly evolve in the face of disruptive new competitors and a changing regulatory environment.
More information on the league table and directors’ dinners
This directors’ roundtable discussion and dinner was the first in a series of four dinners and one lunch to be attended by senior directors from the 2019 Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100.
For more information about the league table and events programme, see: https://www.fasttrack.co.uk/league-tables/top-track-100/