16 inspirational business leaders from Gloucestershire

As part of SoGlos’s on-going efforts to champion Gloucestershire’s business community, we have compiled a shortlist of 16 names to celebrate.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
With so many worthy candidates to choose from, we whittled it down to just 16 inspirational business leaders from Gloucestershire, including Jo and Nick James from Bedfolk.
With so many worthy candidates to choose from, we whittled it down to just 16 inspirational business leaders from Gloucestershire, including Jo and Nick James from Bedfolk.

We regularly listen to the stories of people who run and lead Gloucestershire’s companies, with many of them worthy contenders for a list of inspirational businesspeople.

And, with the help of Cheltenham-based BPE Solicitors, we have handpicked 16 of these individuals, from a diverse variety of sectors, to give SoGlos readers a flavour of the depth of talent within the county – and an explanation of just why Gloucestershire continues to be such a success story.

Ian George, Ali Mawle, Adrian Farnell, Helena Bibby of Cheltenham Festivals

When you look at how close Cheltenham Festivals came to financial disaster in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and how it managed to turn the year into a quite astonishing online success story (and build on that through 2021 too), we could not ignore its four directors.

Cheltenham Literature Festival went online attracting an audience of 200,000, its Science Festival had 54,662 unique visitors and the one-day line-up for the Jazz Festival had 16,500 views. Credit also goes to the considerable financial support of its patrons and generous donations from sponsors, charitable trusts and the work of its incredible team. But its directors – Ian George, Ali Mawle, Adrian Farnell (retired as of September 2021), Helena Bibby – never left the bridge.

William Bennett of Dairy Partners

William Bennett co-founded Dairy Partners in 2007 with Robert Peel and Clive Bennett. The family-run business manufactures and processes a range of cheeses from its Gloucestershire headquarters and at its site in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Today it exports to the USA, Middle East and Asia.

Hit hard by the pandemic, the firm still produced a turnover of £83.1 million in its last year of trading and £1.42 million of profit. In June 2021 it announced a new 7,000 metre-squared facility on a greenfield site just outside Stonehouse which expected to create 100 new jobs.

Nicola Bird of AccXel

Family building firm KW Bell Group is behind the GFirst LEP-funded AccXel construction training school in the Forest of Dean, and in an inspired move it appointed Nicola Bird as the new managing director, tasking her with creating a facility fit to deliver the next generation of talent.

Ms Bird has a masters degree in construction safety and environmental management from the University of South Wales and a post graduate certificate in leading business from the University of Gloucestershire. She has also just joined the board of GFirst LEP.

Craig Peterson of Future Advanced Manufacture

Craig Peterson joined the shop floor of Staverton-based Unitool in 1999. He was promoted in 2004 and became general manager in 2006.

When his former boss suggested he could be the man to take over the firm he was a little taken aback, but in 2008 he completed a management buyout and renamed the business Future Advanced Manufacture.

Since then the firm has diversified away from a reliance on the oil and gas sectors to embrace aerospace, nuclear, medical, pharmaceutical and marine and seen turnover grow from £4 million to more than £15 million.

Chris Creed of Creed Foodservice

Chris Creed, once of GCHQ, joined the family firm, then called Linbar Foodstores, in 1985. He has been chief executive of what is now Creed Foodservice since 2014. At the start of his tenure turnover was £2 million. Pre-pandemic that figure was more than £80 million.

The Staverton-headquartered business continues its unwavering drive towards quality, a strategy which has made it a significant player in the care, education, leisure destinations and hospitality sectors.

Lorrin White of Bamboo

When Lorrin White joined Bamboo in 2002 to head up its office admin, it was a small Cheltenham-based telecoms company. She rose through the ranks, becoming managing director and now chief executive officer of what is now a communications technology specialists.

With its new offices at Gloucestershire College’s Cheltenham campus it is a firm positioned in the mix of all that is happening ahead of the forthcoming cyber-focused Golden Valley Development.

Paul Rogers of Bladeroom

Paul Rogers designed industrial kitchens before coming up with what is credited with being the world’s first air-cooled computer server room. It is this technology which saw the launch of Cheltenham-based Bladeroom, which makes high performance modular buildings for data centres, hospital theatres and pharmaceutical labs.

Turnover for the year ended March 2020 jumped ‘significantly’, from £41.6 million to £49.9 million. Operating profit for the year was £2.1 million, up from £1.8 million.

Jo and Nick James of Bedfolk

In May 2021 Jo James and Bedfolk were named in a list of top 200 female-powered businesses, put together by influential American investment bank J.P. Morgan. Just three years previously she was selling her London flat with husband Nick as the couple put everything they had into their start-up.

Since then the bed linen business, which plugged into the expertise of the county’s Growth Hubs network, has seen 500 per cent annual growth and attracted investment including £1 million this year from True, a ‘leading retail and consumer specialist investment firm’. It continues to grow and create county jobs.

Daniel O’Neill of ProCook

When Daniel O’Neill founded ProCook in 1996 launching form his kitchen table with a lorry load of products was a leap of faith for the then software engineer.

The firm has just revealed another year of near 40 per cent growth in turnover, to £53.5 million, with gross profits up 22 per cent to £36.6 million. And, in October 2021, ProCook announced plans to float on the stock market, valued at between £250 million and £300 million.

Miles Dunkley of SLG Brands

In 1996 Miles Dunkley joined the family business started by his father, Graham, a little over 10 years before. Since taking over the reins he has transformed it beyond recognition from a white label manufacturer of perfumes and toiletries to a sophisticated branding firm which has also led the way in the use of social media influencers and celebrities to ensure its clients products get maximum exposure and sales. With Boots, Superdrug, Superdry or Next – and countless others – all winning success via the Cheltenham business.

Penny Manuel of SOHO Coffee

SOHO Coffee began life at the tail end of the 1990s, started by Julian Dunkerton. But it was Penny Manuel, who bought the fledgling company from the Superdry founder with business partner Christopher Copner, and who is the architect of the brand we know today.

She achieved what many would love to, grow the business into a success then sell it on – to investment company BTC UK in 2016 – staying on as managing director to continue to guide it onwards and upwards into a now multi-national business we know to-day.

Lance Bradley of Gloucester Rugby

Lance Bradley became the new chief executive officer of Gloucester Rugby in September 2019 on the eve of the pandemic. For a business which depends on spectators and sponsors it was about to face its toughest test, underlined by the £88m loan to Premiership clubs as part of its Sport Survival Package.

There have been some hard decisions for the Gloucester boss, but the club has emphasised its position as part the community, and have unveiled a new training and commercial centre, sponsors, and a new pitch.

Simone Hindmarch-Bye and Arthur Hindmarch of Commercial Group

Simone Hindmarch-Bye and brother Arthur Hindmarch founded Commercial Corporate Services in 1991 with long-standing university friend Alastair de Q Adams. Initially the firm specialised in business stationery and operated from a one-room office, but it has long since grown into a £70 million turnover firm delivering everything from pens, paper and printed products to office technologies and interior design. It will also deliver IT infrastructure services to specialist solutions such as managed document services.

Andy Talbot of Off-Piste Wines

Andy Talbot did not found Off-Piste Wines, that was partners Ant Fairbank and Paul Letheren back in 2007. But he has been key to helping drive the firm which has seen sales up 21 per cent in the year to February 2021. Its Most Wanted wine brand saw sales rise 63 per cent over the same period. It is a success which saw the firm, which supplies the off-trade, become the fifth fastest growing top 50 still wine brand in the UK, up 10 places to 28.

Julia Everard of Saracen Care

Julia Everard is managing director and co-owner of Saracen Care, the business founded by Dr Jonathan Mawdesley-Thomas. Under her guidance the company has trebled in size. Ms Everard had more than two decades experience in consultancy, managing teams and major projects prior to joining the health and social care sector and has just led Saracen Care through one of the sector’s most challenging times ever as a result of the pandemic. The firm has won and retained a ‘outstanding’ rating from the Care Quality Commission.

Mark Stewart of Stewart Golf

As the story goes, when Mark Stewart first received feedback on his motorised golf trolley he was advised it was not a ‘viable’ business idea. Last year it enjoyed a surge in exports to the US, with its sales to America quadrupling to reach $2 million (£1.45 million) in the first half of 2020.

The Quedgeley-based manufacturing business grew its staff numbers by 60 per cent during pandemic to cope. All of which helped it walk away with the International Business of the Year award at this year’s SoGlos Gloucestershire Business Awards.

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