Last call to join the private high-flyers

BUSINESSES wanting to take part in the Independent on Sunday's annual search for Britain's fastest-growing private companies only have a few days left to enter, writes Roger Trapp.

The closing date for applications to join the "Independent 100" survey, compiled in association with the accountancy firm Price Waterhouse, is this Friday.

Over the seven years that we have been preparing this definitive guide to the most successful owner-managed businesses, their role in creating wealth and employment has been recognised by politicians and commentators alike as an increasingly important part of the national economy.

While many organisations have sought to tap into this market, the Independent 100 and its associate listing, the Middle Market 50, have become reliable indicators of both past achievements and future growth.

Among the companies identified by the Independent 100 and since floated on the stock market are Stagecoach, the bus and train operator; J D Wetherspoon, the pubs group; Groupe Chez Gerard, the restaurants chain; and European Telecom, the mobile phone distribution company that topped the listing last year. Others - such as Value Added Medical Products, which topped the first table - have been bought out. Still others, notably Loot, the classified advertisements newspaper publisher that has appeared in every listing, have remained independent largely because their performance has been so strong that they do not need outside funds to finance expansion.

Significantly, an index of former Independent 100 companies now quoted on the Stock Exchange shows that, overall, these businesses have consistently outperformed the FT-SE 100 over the past five years.

The listing is based on annual compound sales growth over the five years to 30 June 1997. In addition, there is recognition through the Middle Market 50 listing for the achievements of companies that continue to expand quickly even though they have reached a certain size. To qualify for this, companies must have sales of at least pounds 5m in the financial year to 30 June 1993 and more than 150 employees in the period to 30 June 1997.

To give you some idea of the sort of performance that will qualify you for inclusion, it should be remembered that each of the top three companies in last year's Independent 100 achieved average annual sales growth over the five years of more than 100 per cent, while even for the 100th company the figure was 33.5 per cent. In the middle market, the top-placed company, another mobile phone business called Caudwell Subsidiary Holdings, achieved average annual sales growth of more than 75 per cent, while for the 50th company the figure was just over 25 per cent.

If you think your company stands comparison with such businesses, contact Julie Harwood at Price Waterhouse (tel 0171-939 3000) for an application form. The address for application forms and completed entries is Independent 100, Price Waterhouse, Southwark Towers, 32 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SY.

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