The Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 is set to hold its 20th annual awards next week, underlining the event’s long history as a beacon of North East business achievement.
The event was first held in 1998 and was set up by law firm Ward Hadaway with the aim of highlighting and celebrating business success and achievement across the region.
By identifying profit-making privately-owned companies with the highest average annual growth in turnover, it was hoped that the Fastest 50 would act as a stage for showcasing the very best in North East enterprise and generate a positive message about the region’s economy.
The message which came out of the inaugural awards was to become a familiar one over the years – when it comes to engineering, manufacturing and the offshore industry the North East is truly a national powerhouse.
Armstrong Technology Associates – a Wallsend-based company formed by members of the design team at Swan Hunter shipyard – won the overall award after clinching contracts in the offshore oil and gas industry.
The other inaugural winners was engineering group Bywell Holdings and manufacturer Isocom Components, which won fastest growing large and medium companies respectively, with engineering consultancy Utility Technical Services winning the fastest growing small company award.
These first awards also demonstrated the knack of the Fastest 50 for picking out enduring success.
Eleven years later, Bywell Holdings – now known as SMD – was crowned as fastest growing large business and fastest growing overall business in the 2009 Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 and has gone on to further success since then.
Underlining the continuity of the awards over the years, SMD chief executive Andrew Hodgson, who is also chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, will be giving the keynote speech at the 2017 Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 Awards at BALTIC next Friday.
SMD is also not the only repeat winner in Fastest 50 history.
Bannatyne Fitness was a winner in both 1999 and 2000 while another arm of the Bannatyne empire, Bannatyne Hotels, won the overall title in 2006.
Durham’s Rivergreen appeared in both 2002 and 2003, Control Mesure Regulation (UK) Ltd of North Tyneside was a winner in 2007 and 2009 and Wilton Engineering performed a rare feat to walk off with awards in successive years – 2010 and 2011.
In 2014, AT&P Rentals pulled off the remarkable feat of winning the fastest growing medium sized business and fastest growing overall business 12 years after winning the award for the fastest growing small business.
And in 2015, Cramlington-based Techflow Marine won fastest growing large business and fastest growing overall business a year after its sister company, Techflow Flexibles, had won the fastest growing large business award.
Alongside this continuity, the Fastest 50 has also borne witness to the changing tides in the North East economy over the past 14 years.
For example, professional services sector and leisure businesses have seen their influence grow and the range of the winning companies over the years – from food wholesalers to nursery providers – demonstrates the rich variety found in North-East business and how a wide spectrum of companies can and do succeed here.
The Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 has also developed quite a knack for picking out stars of the future on their way up.
Previous winners over the years have included The Engineering Business – now part of the multinational IHC Merwede Group – and Eaga Partnership, became part of support services and construction giant Carillion plc.
As well as attracting the attention of the wider business world, the Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 has also seen some big hitters appear at awards ceremonies over the years.
In 2010, the then Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable MP – now Liberal Democrat leader – appeared as keynote speaker, praising the event as “a very positive occasion”, and emphasising the importance of companies such as those in the Fastest 50 in determining the success of the UK’s recovery from recession.
Lending political balance to proceedings, Newcastle East MP Nick Brown was guest speaker in 2007 when he was Minister for the North East.
The year before, it was the turn of the then Sage plc chief executive Paul Walker to give the keynote speech whilst in 2014, BBC Breakfast business reporter Steph McGovern was the guest of honour.
The awards themselves have grown considerably in stature and importance – the inaugural awards took place in the boardroom of Ward Hadaway whilst last year’s awards saw an audience of more than 300 gathered together to celebrate business success.
The winners of this year’s Ward Hadaway Fastest 50 awards will be revealed at a ceremony on October 6.
Colin Hewitt, partner and head of commercial law at Ward Hadaway, said: “Over the years, the Fastest 50 has grown in prominence to the point where it is now a key fixture on the region’s business calendar.
“Our main aims when starting the awards in 1998 were to provide a cause for celebration and a focus for positive messages about the North East, its businesses and its can-do attitude.
“That has certainly proved to be the case and we are looking forward to the 20th awards just as much as we have to the previous 19.
“Over the years, we have seen some superb businesses rise to the challenge of our changing times and this year promises to be no exception as we get ready to celebrate the success of our 20th cohort.”