Is your company one of the elite?

Aim for the top by entering the `Independent 100' contest

o you have what it takes to prosper in the most competitive sector in British industry? Do you think you deserve to stand alongside such business successes as the Stagecoach transport company, the JD Wetherspoon pubs chain or the mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse?

If so, you could be in line for a starring role in the next edition of The Independent on Sunday's league table of Britain's fastest-growing private companies. Much imitated, but never bettered, it is now in its ninth year of operation - with a new sponsor and a valuable prize for the top-ranked business.

In the search for the high performers of the future which starts today, the The IoS has teamed up with KITE, a new business venture established by the accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward. And the first-placed company will get a year's free membership of a pioneering business forum.

BDO, which has long been a specialist adviser to entrepreneurial businesses, has launched KITE to give chief executives of such firms access to advice and support that would not otherwise be available to them.

KITE members are split into groups of up to 10 non-competing companies and then each group meets once a month under the aegis of a trained moderator in order to discuss business problems and business challenges.

The sessions include talks from experts of the group's choice, but the key focus is on the group discussions in which members provide each other with insights and lessons from their own varied experiences.

Similar self-help groups designed to provide ambitious chief executives with access to advice and support from their peers have been existence for some time. However, KITE is convinced that the presence of moderators - established independent business people specially trained to obtain the maximum benefit from the group sessions - sets the KITE groups apart.

Indeed, feedback from the early meetings has been so strong that it is clear that membership of this club could be a significant source of competitive advantage for the businesses involved. With new companies signing up all the time, a year's membership - worth pounds 8,400 - is clearly a highly desirable first prize for this year's KITE/Independent 100.

However, to be in with a chance of winning it, you have to be a very special organisation. Though all the companies that have featured in the previous eight listings have been household names, they have been world- class performers - creating thousands of jobs at a time when many of the country's best-known companies have been repeatedly shedding workers.

Moreover, their achievements have been a key factor in forcing politicians and others to re-evaluate their views of the British economy. It is in an effort to replicate their success that the Government is looking at various initiatives - including tax measures expected to be contained in next month's Budget - to boost the entrepreneurial environment.

Welcome as any assistance will no doubt be, the people operating in this highly-competitive sphere have repeatedly shown that they can thrive in the most difficult of conditions. Even when the recession of the early 1990s was at its fiercest, many Independent 100 companies were still seeing turnover growing at nearly 100 per cent each year.

To see if you can compete at such a level, you need to be running a privately-owned company that has been in existence for at least five years. Sales growth is judged over five years leading up to 31 December 1998 - and to ensure that only substantial businesses qualify, sales in the first of those five years must be at least pounds 250,000. Moreover, all companies entering must present audited accounts showing a profit in at least the last of those years.

For companies that have moved beyond the start-up phase, but are still growing rapidly, there is another contest - the Middle Market 50, which is open to businesses registering annual turnover of at least pounds 5m in the first year. In past years, many companies have featured in both listings.

RULES AND CONDITIONS OF ENTRY

1) Companies must be unquoted and based and incorporated in the UK. Companies listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) are not eligible. Venture capital backed companies are eligible.

2) Groups of companies may apply if total sales figures comply with (3) and (8) below, but entries from selected subsidies are not eligible.

3) Companies must be able to submit audited sales of a minimum of pounds 500,000 for their financial year which ended during the 12 months to 30 June 1994, and for the Middle Market 50 a minimum of pounds 5m for their financial year which ended during the 12 months to 30 June 1994.

4) The most recent financial year end that will be considered is 30 June 1998.

5) The accounts relating to the most recent period of trading as defined in (4) above must show a pre-tax profit. Profit details will not be published or disclosed to third parties.

6) The average number of employees must be not less that 15 during the finacial year ended during the 12 months to 30 June 1998 for the Independent 100 and not less than 150 in respect of the Middle Market 50.

7) The company's auditors must certify the information relating to sales, pre-tax profit and employees given on the entry form, together with the status of the company throughout the period.

8) Sales are defined as the value to the company (or group of companies) of goods and services provided, excluding VAT, out of the core company (or group of companies), together with any other companies which have been acquired during the five year period; sales of associated companies and joint ventures should be excluded.

9) Average employee numbers are to be calculated on a basis consistent with (8) above. Part time staff should be counted as proportions of full time staff.

10) The length of each accounting period must be stated for which sales, pre-tax profit and employees details are being provided. Where the length of the accounting period is not 12 months the sales details will be apportioned unless more accurate information is supplied.

11) Companies must submit a copy of their audited statutory accounts for the most recent qualifying financial period.

12) The decision of the Business Editor of Independent on Sunday is final in all matters concerning the Independent 100.

13) The Independent on Sunday reserves the right to publish the information supplied (excluding details of pre-tax profits).

Completed certified entry forms must be received not later than Friday 2 April 1999.

Forms should be sent to Philip Rego, KITE/Independent 100, Willoughby House, 439 Richmond Road, East Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 2HA.

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