IN A climate where repairing the frazzled economy is paramount, it seemed fitting to see hundreds of the UK’s most successful company bosses and their advisers, bankers and friends gather at the Park Lane Hilton last night to celebrate the heroes of the recovery – entrepreneurs – at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
The most coveted gong bestowed upon the country’s wealth creators each year – the overall UK entrepreneur of the year – this time round went to Petrofac chief executive Ayman Asfari, a name which has had eagle-eyed stockpickers foaming at the mouth for years.
Having built Petrofac into a £5bn business since its £750m flotation in 2005, Asfari is always hungering for more – and had the following inspirational, if somewhat cheesy, advice for his fellow entrepreneurs.
“Aim high, stick the course and shoot for the stars,” he told the guests. “There’s no limit to what you can achieve.”
PROUD AS PUNCH
Equally stirring, if less poetic, was last year’s winner Michael Spencer, the boss of inter-dealer broker Icap.
Spencer went on from the UK awards last year to clinch EY’s World Entrepreneur of the Year gong in Monaco in June, from the jaws of 49 rivals from across the globe.
“When they announced that I’d won, we went crazy,” Spencer chuckled. “We danced around the place with the Union Jack; you’d all have been proud as hell!”
Spencer’s girlfriend Sarah (Marchioness of Milford Haven) was undoubtedly proud as hell as well, especially as her man paid special tribute to her influence last night.
“I went over [to Monaco] with my girlfriend, who’s also here tonight,” the incurable romantic quipped. “She has certainly been a talismanic success, I must say…”
Leading the pack in the rest of this year’s awards, presented by BBC news stunner Fiona Bruce, were a pair of old-timers from the corporate world. Lord Young of Graffham, the former president of the Institute of Directors, was given a special award in recognition of his contribution to entrepreneurship over the past 50 years (“this is the very first award I’ve ever won”, Young smiled, cradling the trophy to his chest); while Brian Souter of Stagecoach won the master entrepreneur of the year award, bestowed upon him in absentia by the CBI’s director-general Richard Lambert.
Julian Dunkerton, the chief executive of retailer Supergroup, won the retail entrepreneur gong, after floating his company on the stock exchange in March and more than doubling its share price in half a year.
“There’s great product and then there’s fashion and they’re two different things,” Dunkerton insisted, shunning the cult status imposed upon his brand by the unofficial patronage of image-conscious stars like David Beckham. “It’s not all about the catwalk – we’re about creating the enduring classics.”
Meanwhile, James Benamor, chief executive of Richmond Group, won the consumer products and services category – fittingly in the current climate, since his company provides funding to those who’s been refused credit by the large banks; Telecity Group’s Michael Tobin took the IT services gong; Nick Jenkins, founder of personalised greeting card site Moonpig, win the digital and innovation award; and the social entrepreneur category went to Sophi Tranchell, founder of Divine Chocolate – which is 45 per cent owned by the Ghanaian farmers which produce its cocoa.