Middling to excellent - the medium market marches on

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The Independent Online
THIS year's Middle Market Award has a more even balance of sectors than the main listing. Not only has the computer representation slipped from 10 to eight, but the gap with other sectors has closed. The engineering, electrical and telecommunications industry is there with six companies, but it has been beaten by retail and distribution with seven, while general manufacturing, construction and property, and transport are not far behind.

However, none of this can diminish the achievement of Caudwell Subsidiary Holdings, the mobile phones distributor and retailer that has retained its top position.

The Middle Market Award was devised by Price Waterhouse to recognise those companies that continue growing once they have passed a certain point; to qualify, they must have a minimum of pounds 5m of sales in the first year of the five-year period in question. Caudwell, which was placed 11th in the main listing, has done especially well because it is operating in a highly competitive field.

As managing director John Caudwell says, it is quite easy to get turnover up but a lot more difficult to retain profitability. By the end of 1995, the Staffordshire-based company he founded in 1986 with his brother Brian had achieved sales of pounds 125.7m. By the end of last year the figure was pounds 160m and the operation - which thanks to a recent expansion into the Netherlands now employs 1,000 people - is on course to reach this year's target of pounds 250m and a stock market quotation by the end of the century.

Nigel Crockford, the PW partner responsible for the Independent 100 and Middle Market 50 listings, says the growth in employee numbers at the Middle Market companies is "particularly impressive".

Average payrolls increased by 103 to 541, and contributed to the 24,290 jobs created over the five-year period by the 124 companies listed in this year's two tables. At the same time, average turnover levels increased from pounds 54.3m last time to pounds 65m and the rates of growth were also up, from 32.4 to 35.3 per cent - an "exceptional" performance at a time of difficult economic conditions, according to Mr Crockford.

But then Mr Caudwell, for one, is certain that you have to be "commercially aggressive" to survive in such a context. "It's utter single-minded dedication," he says. "We're utterly focused on employing the best people to achieve our goals. You've got to have a goal, you've got to have focus and you've got to keep driving."

Further details of the Middle Market 50 companies will appear in next week's Independent on Sunday.

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