International Track 200: Covid-19 edition

21st February 2021

Our 12th Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 league table, published in The Sunday Times today and here on our website, identifies the UK’s mid-market private companies with the fastest-growing overseas sales – largely before Covid-19 struck.

It highlights how they have been affected by the pandemic, and Brexit, and finds that they achieved export growth, on average, of between 18% and 254% p.a. over their last two years to a total of £8.7bn. For detailed findings download our research report.

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Published today, the 12th annual Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 league table ranks Britain’s mid-market private companies with the fastest-growing international sales – largely before Covid-19 struck.

The average international sales growth was 55% p.a., and 20 companies achieved triple-digit growth, with testing services provider Element (No 161) having the highest international sales on the table, at £524m in 2019. The 200 companies employ 107,000 staff, having added 31,500 jobs over their last two years.

This Covid-19 edition explores how Britain’s mid-market exporters have been affected by the pandemic and the restrictions put in place around the world. It also reports on our recent survey into the impact of Brexit (see below); identifies America as the top target for future growth – with 107 companies planning to expand there; and includes a record 36 companies which generate more than 10% of exports from online sales, up from 31 last year.


Top of the league

The number one company, London-based IT infrastructure provider ExcelRedstone, has helped global tech firms, financial institutions and retailers adapt their IT infrastructure to cope with the pandemic. It has 700-plus engineers and its international footprint includes offices in Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Singapore and the US.

Mark Smith, now 55, co-founded the business in 1989 with a view to providing IT services to offices in the City. Chief executive Barry Horgan, 49 (pictured above), joined and led a buyout in 2008, embarking on a successful expansion strategy targeting multinationals in the financial services and technology sectors. The business grew five-fold between 2008 and 2018 with Barry leading a series of acquisitions. International sales rocketed 254% a year to an annualised £36.3m in 2019, up from £2.9m in in 2017.


Increased demand due to Covid-19

While all the companies have been affected by the pandemic and the restrictions put in place around the world, many have reported increased demand and hired more staff.

  • Spectrum Medical (No 25), saw orders fly in from US and German customers for its blood perfusion systems, used to help treat critically-ill Covid-19 patients. Sales are expected to increase to £40m in 2020, up from £33m in 2019, and hit £120m in 2021
  • Gymshark (No 59), the fitness clothing brand, expects sales to jump from £261m in the year to June 2020 to £400m in 2021. Eighty percent are to overseas customers, and the company was valued at £1bn last August when US private equity firm General Atlantic acquired a 21% stake
  • BJSS (No 169 – pictured below), the IT and business consultancy, has hired 500 staff since May to meet increased demand as businesses have accelerated AI and analytics programmes to personalise online services

There have inevitably been some companies which have been impacted negatively by the pandemic, particularly those in the hospitality and leisure industries.

  • Five Guys (No 36), the burger restaurant chain, was forced to close its restaurants, and is reportedly in a legal dispute with its landlord over £1.5m of unpaid rent
  • Inside Travel Group (No 123), which ordinarily helps 12,000 people explore Asia each year, has faced a challenging year with international travel curtailed


Brexit survey

Fast Track conducted a survey during December 2020 and January 2021 asking the companies about the overall impact that Brexit has had on their business. This is the fifth year of the survey.

  • The majority (60%, up from 52% last year) said Brexit has had a neutral impact on their business. Of responses received in January, after the UK/EU trade deal was agreed, 63% said neutral
  • 33%, down from 41%, said Brexit has had a negative effect on their business. The figure fell to 30% among companies completing the survey in January
  • 7%, in line with last year, said the vote has had a positive influence on their business. The figure was the same for companies responding before and after the deal was announced

International Track Ones to Recognise

The inaugural International Track Ones to Recognise showcases five companies that have grown exports but do not meet the criteria of the main table. They all generate a significant proportion of sales overseas.

Chief executive Charles de Rohan of The Binding Site, which has developed a Covid-19 antibody test

The International Track Ones to Recognise includes The Binding Site, which manufactures 35m blood tests a year and has a developed a Covid-19 antibody test, seeing exports hit £139.1m in 2020, representing 93% of sales. The list features three other British manufacturers, two of which – spirits company Ian Macleod Distillers and cashmere maker Johnstons of Elgin – are family-owned firms based in Scotland. Sygnature Discovery, a drug discovery services firm, completes the ranking.

For further details, see the International Track Ones to Recognise page.


Detailed research findings

Detailed findings are covered in our 32-page research report – please click to download


Alumni companies

In the 12 years since its inception, International Track has featured more than 1,100 companies, many of which are household names – including Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, Boden, and Dr Martens – which first featured on the league table in 2013 with international sales of £101m, grew them to £545m in 2020, floated in January valued at £3.7bn, and is now valued at more than £5bn.

Others which went on to float on the stock market include Markit, which featured in 2013 with overseas sales of £251m; floated on Nasdaq in 2014 valued at $4bn; then merged with IHS in 2016 and is now worth $36bn. Fever-Tree, which featured in 2011, floated in 2014 valued at £154m and is now valued at £2.8bn; THG featured for seven consecutive years before floating in September valued at £5.4bn and is now valued at £6.9bn.


National awards event

We look forward to welcoming the founders and directors of the International Track 200 companies to April’s invitation-only interactive virtual awards event.

Our keynote speakers are Lord Jim O’Neill, the renowned economist who coined the acronym BRICS and has warned of the global risks posed by antimicrobial resistance, and Rosaleen Blair CBE, founder and chair of AMS, the talent acquisition specialist which she led as CEO for 23 years and employs 4,500 people across 100 countries.


See last year’s event video.


Our sponsors

Recognising the achievements of all these companies is made possible by our sponsors: HSBC, our title sponsor for all 12 years, and DHL Express, our main sponsor for five years.

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