Top Track 100 – Covid-19 Edition

5th July 2020

Our 19th annual Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100 league table, published today and here on our website, identifies the UK’s biggest private companies by sales, and before Covid-19 struck. It highlights their contribution to the economy at this difficult time, and gives examples of how they have stepped up to support their communities and the NHS. For detailed findings, download our research report

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Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK, the vast majority of Britain’s biggest private companies were in good health. Seventy-four reported sales in their last financial year had risen, taking the combined total of the 100 companies to £237bn, up 8% and a record. Profits (ebitda) also increased, hitting another record of £28bn, up 7%, although for some these profits serviced significant interest payments on combined debts of more than £126bn. Together the companies employed 980,000 people, equivalent to 3% of the UK’s workforce.

Prospects for this year, however, look very different. Fast Track’s survey of the companies on their expectations for their current financial year found that 68% anticipated a “negative” impact on sales, with 22% fearing a “very negative” hit, and only 10% saying it will have no impact overall. A number of the companies have already announced significant job cuts.

The extremely difficult trading conditions have not prevented many of the companies stepping up to the challenges created by the coronavirus crisis. For instance, The Hut Group (No 59) created a £12m aid package for vulnerable communities in the north west of England and overseas where their suppliers are located; and Arqiva (No 73), the communications services firm, has waived several million pounds in fees due from local radio stations to help them survive the economic downturn; while satellite communications specialist Inmarsat (No 63) has provided discounted voice calls and free video telemedicine for crews stuck at sea on 40,000 ships during the economic lockdown.

Top of the league

Pictured: INEOS delivers its hand gel to the NHS free of charge

Petrochemicals giant INEOS tops the league table for a sixth consecutive year based on estimated total sales in 2018 of £25bn, with profits of £4.4bn. Britain’s largest private company has played its part in combating the coronavirus pandemic, building six hand sanitiser plants across the UK, France, Germany and the US – each constructed within ten days and capable of producing one million bottles a month of medical grade gel, which it provided free of charge to the NHS and other hard-hit health services around the world. It has now launched a consumer healthcare division on the back of this initiative.

Led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the company produces some 60m tons of chemicals a year across its portfolio of 183 plants, refineries and gas fields spanning 26 countries, used in everything from paint to insulin. It provides the chlorine necessary to keep the UK’s household water supply safe to drink; phenol, used in aspirin and paracetamol; and chemicals used in antivirals, antibiotics and Covid-19 testing kits.

Sir Jim is worth £12.15bn, according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2020, and owns 60% of INEOS, with his partners John Reece and Andy Currie each owning 20%.

Focus: Helping the NHS and local communities

Pictured: Mott MacDonald helped build Cardiff’s NHS Nightingale hospital

Top Track 100 companies have played an essential role in helping the NHS manage the strain on its resources during the pandemic. Many deployed their expertise in technology and infrastructure, while others donated protective equipment, provided meals, or made substantial financial contributions to NHS Trusts across the country.

Examples include:

  • Mott McDonald (No 35) helped build NHS Nightingale hospitals in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff
  • JCB (No 10) distributed more than 35,000 meals to vulnerable citizens across its home country of Staffordshire, and 175,000 more in India where it operates three factories
  • Dorset-based Cobham (No 30) modified its fighter aircraft oxygen system for use in medical ventilators as part of the UK Ventilator Challenge
  • OVO Energy (No 70) introduced a £50m Coronavirus hardship scheme to help customers struggling to pay their bills
  • Home Bargains (No 26) stayed open as an essential retailer during the pandemic and launched a £30m fund to support all self-isolating staff
  • A foundation set up by bet365’s co-founder and co-chief executive Denise Coates committed to donate £10m to the local NHS trust in the company’s hometown of Stoke-on-Trent

Alumni success stories

Top Track 100 alumni success stories include Alliance Boots, which was the No 1 company from 2020 to 2014 before its acquisition by American giant Walgreens in 2015; payment processor WorldPay, which featured three times before it floated for £5.3bn in 2015, later acquired by financial software firm FIS for $49bn; and B&M Retail, which first featured in 2012 with sales of £713m, floated and is now worth £4.3bn with 2019 sales of £3.5bn

Detailed research findings 

Detailed research findings are covered in our 29-page research report — please click to download.

Directors’ networking events

We look forward to welcoming the founders and directors of the Top Track 100 companies to this year’s invitation-only networking events in November in London, social distancing measures permitting.

Our sponsors

Recognising the achievements of all these companies is made possible by our sponsors: HSBC, our title sponsor for a seventh year, and Linklaters, our main sponsor also in its seventh year of sponsorship.

For opportunities to connect with and build relationships with the founders and directors of Britain’s biggest private companies, please visit our sponsorship page:

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