A new world order

Given the collapse of the banking system, hysteria in the public markets and unemployment reaching record levels, our yearly Rising Stars article, where we identify the top 50 fastest-growing UK companies, may seem like the equivalent of turning up to a funeral in a gold lamé suit.

Given the collapse of the banking system, hysteria in the public markets and unemployment reaching record levels, our yearly Rising Stars article, where we identify the top 50 fastest-growing UK companies, may seem like the equivalent of turning up to a funeral in a gold lamé suit.

After all, mighty financial institutions may be bailed out by governments – or not, in Lehman’s case – but growing companies have no such luxury. Researching this year’s Rising Stars has definitely been an eye opener.

One CEO of a construction company in Merseyside, after acknowledging the most recent financial results were great, stopped me in my tracks. ‘The wheels have come off in the past four months. Orders have simply stopped in the building industry. I couldn’t tell you if we’ll be in business next year to be honest.’

Plenty of other companies came off the list for similar reasons.

Star qualities
So where are the success stories? Certainly business services companies are making up a significant 31 per cent of those on the list (compared to ten per cent last year), followed by 22 per cent in IT and technology (30 per cent in 2007) and 16 per cent in retail and consumer services (the same as last year).  

Regionally, the spread is similar, with London and the South East dominating (56 per cent). But the real story seems to be the number of companies with international operations – China, India and Eastern Europe are mentioned time and again.

The success of these strategies speaks for itself. There is a real feeling that a new world economic order is emerging – as opposed to just being talked about. This sees Brazil, Russia, India and China as genuine counterweights to the US and Western markets. Now  there will inevitably be fluctuations too (look at the public markets of Russia and China), but it’s worth listening when a mining firm like Rio Tinto says that China is going to build ten cities the size of New York over the next 20 years. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out where the financial centres of the future will be.

Add in the sovereign funds of the Middle East and the vast potential of Japan if it gets its act together, and it seems almost suicidal for UK companies not to have an international strategy.