Winners play their cards right

As the Independent 100 listing enters its sixth year, Roger Trapp explains how our league table has set a benchmark for growth
ANYONE looking for proof that Britain's private companies are not necessarily small in size and limited in outlook need go no further than Card Protection Plan. The company, which last year was one of only nine organisations to have appeared in the Independent 100 annual listing of fastest-growing private companies for four consecutive years, has set itself the target of becoming the largest supplier of card protection insurance in Europe and is looking to expand into Asia.

Although its chairman, Hamish Ogston, is conscious that the move could prove the death of a business that over the past 15 years has grown to achieve a turnover of pounds 15m, he believes it is better to take the risk than to just stand still with money in the bank.

It is the sort of entrepreneurial spirit that has led the Government and such advisers as banks and accountants to recognise that businesses such as Card Protection Plan are the future drivers of the economy. This is why last November's Budget contained specific measures, including capital gains and inheritance tax relief, to help privately owned businesses.

But the Independent 100, compiled every year since 1990 by the Independent on Sunday in association with accountants Price Waterhouse, indicates that many of these businesses have expanded rapidly without such assistance. The companies that have appeared in the Independent 100 and the Middle Market 50, designed to recognise larger companies' efforts in sustaining growth, have created more than 15,250 jobs since the table was launched. As Nigel Crockford, the Price Waterhouse partner responsible for middle- market and growth companies, points out, this is "a remarkable achievement when one considers that unemployment over the five years to December 1994 had risen by about 50 per cent".

If your company has been able to buck the recession by expanding in this way, you could be featured in the 1996 Independent 100 listing, which is launched today. Past listings have identified Stagecoach Holdings, the fast-growing bus operator now moving into rail, business information company Maid and medical computer company Vamp, which has since been acquired by Reuters. If you think you can live in this sort of company, fill in the attached coupon and send it to Julie Harwood at Price Waterhouse, Southwark Towers, 32 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SY, by 1 March.

The league table, which has become an established performance indicator for successful UK growth companies, ranks businesses by annual compound sales growth over a five-year period. In addition to the overall ranking, the Middle Market award is for companies that have annual sales of at least pounds 5m in the first year of the five or at least pounds 15m in the last year of the five.

The businesses featured in the first five years have come from a variety of sectors. But they also have a lot in common, such as a determination to focus on what they know best and an unwillingness to use borrowings in order to expand.

In an attempt to draw on these common interests, Price Waterhouse is seeking to form a network of fast-growing privately owned businesses. Since membership will be confined to those which have featured in the Independent 100, this is another reason why you should not delay returning the entry form.