Mobile phones head parade of private stars

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The Independent Online
The spectacular growth in the mobile phones market is clearly demonstrated by the top four places in this year's Independent 100 listing of Britain's fastest-growing private companies going to businesses in the sector.

The top three companies in the seventh annual table compiled in association with accountants Price Waterhouse achieved annual sales growth of more than 100 per cent over five years. The Carphone Warehouse, which followed up last year's pole position with fourth place, was close behind, with an annual growth rate of 94.9 per cent.

The computers sector, which has dominated the listings from the start in 1990, just held off the engineering, electrical and telecommunications category, which has been gaining in recent years. But the two are becoming intertwined.

While first-placed European Telecom concentrates on distributing mobile phones, second-placed Anglia Telecom Centres has a significant computer networking operation, while third-placed Mobile Systems International is actually placed in the computers category even though its software and consultancy business is dedicated to the wireless communications market.

Nigel Crockford, the PW partner responsible for the listing, pointed out that the two sectors - which together account for 46 of the top 100 companies - had become so dominant because of the way technology was changing the way people operated at home as well as at work.

However, despite this sector domination and the geographical bias towards London and the South-east, most sectors and regions of Britain are represented.

The listing, which has previously identified some now well-known companies such as transport operator Stagecoach, pubs group JD Wetherspoon and the online information provider MAID, this year includes Gatwick Airport- based Cityflyer Express - 15th in the main listing and second in the Middle Market 50 - which is one of British Airways' franchise operations, taking passengers to various European and domestic destinations; retailer and distributor New Look, 27th in the main listing and fourth in the middle market; and Fresh Catch, a Scottish fish processor that last week received a Queen's export award.

To qualify for the listing, companies must have audited sales of at least pounds 500,000 in the first of the five years of growth (pounds 5m for those in the Middle Market 50), and the accounts for the most recent trading period must show a profit.

Companies applying to join this year's listing had turnover ranging from pounds 1m to pounds 564m, while the average remained at just under pounds 33m. However, the average turnover of the successful 100 was up on last year, from pounds 25.1m to pounds 29.5m.

Mr Crockford also stressed that while many large public companies continue to shed jobs, the bigger companies in the listing increased employment.

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