The 3i Private Business of the Year Award recognises the achievements of UK businesses with a turnover above £25m.
"Growing your business is hard enough without what feels like the market being against you," says David Whileman, partner, Private Equity, 3i. "Yet 3i Private Business of the Year finalists have all thrived in this climate. They have reacted to the challenges of a changing environment and adapted their businesses to win in their market."
Employing over 20,000 people, this year's finalists operate across sectors as diverse as food products, manufacturing and financial services, with the oldest founded in 1807 and the youngest in 2004.
Some of the common themes this year include innovation around customer service, with food technology company apetito constantly surveying its elderly clients and local authorities about the quality of its service and product, and architectural consultancy Gleeds applying innovative approaches to energy and property management for its clients worldwide. Mark Group's family ownership and culture allow it to take the long-term view on both strategy and client relationships - understanding that customers' needs are unique and delivering bespoke energy-saving solutions rather than just something 'off the shelf'.
As might be expected from family-run firms, employee engagement was high across the board, but achieved in different ways. While Stannah shares a substantial proportion of profits every month with all employees, Yeo Valley's responsible principles have instilled pride in its staff while making it a pioneer of the organic movement and showing that sustainable farming can make real commercial and business sense. In addition to its own equity share scheme, Mobile Interactive Group dedicates time and forums to promote new ideas to senior management from the bottom-up, and invests in the best.
Proving that those businesses that continue to invest in medium-term growth will always prosper, AJ Bell delivered operational efficiencies through new systems to allow more competitive pricing. Bibby Line Group refurbished and ordered several new ships even as the downturn hit, investing heavily in assets today, which will generate returns tomorrow.
All of the finalists have demonstrated how a partnership approach to business really pays off. Whether collaborating in new ways with customers, suppliers and government - or in a more meaningful and efficient way with other teams or divisions within the business - these success stories that commercial and business goals can be achieved regardless of the wider economic environment.
"This year's finalists give great encouragement to those who believe in growing UK companies, as we at 3i do," says Whileman. "These businesses are strong enough to forecast an average growth rate of 23% for 2012. While they represent a wide range of business sizes, industries and strategies, what they all have in common is a fantastic track record of growth, a strong vision for the future, and the leadership to win in their market, whether here in the UK or abroad."