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Business & Economy

Fastest 50: Celebrating the path to success

As final preparations are made for the unveiling of law firm Ward Hadaway’s latest North East Fastest 50 list, Steven Hugill speaks to partner and programme lead Damien Charlton about the value of showcasing companies’ successes and the campaign’s significance in helping shape future regional commercial advances.


“The path to success is never easy for any business owner, which is why it’s so nice to shine a spotlight on their achievements.”

A smile spreads across Damien Charlton’s face, as warming rays of light stream through office windows over his right shoulder.

The sunshine, though, is software-generated, a video call backcloth providing perpetual brightness across even the greyest of British summers.

But it’s nevertheless an entirely appropriate scene, given the uplifting nature of Ward Hadaway’s North East Fastest 50 list, the latest iteration of which will be unveiled at an October ceremony.

In a world where the UK’s protracted EU divorce, COVID-19, Russia’s Ukrainian assault and financial market constriction have, over the years, created plentiful headwinds and haze, Fastest 50 cuts through beacon-like, illuminating North East business resilience, innovation and progress.

Annually highlighting the half-century of privately-owned regional businesses with the largest average annual turnover growth rates across a three-year period, Fastest 50 – which began in the late 1990s – is an almanac of accomplishment across companies of all sizes and sectors.

“There is a lot of hard work, focus, dedication, expertise and skill that goes into running a business, as well as a lot of trials and tribulations,” says Damien, who leads Fastest 50 alongside his role as a partner at Ward Hadaway.

“And that is why it’s so enjoyable to recognise companies’ successes.

“It’s perhaps part of the North East’s DNA to not shout too loudly about its achievements, but the firms that make the Fastest 50 list are the ones driving the region’s growth and making a huge contribution to prosperity, employment, training and graduate retention.

“We tell the stories people like to hear, the background to business growth and the many different journeys behind the entrepreneurialism.”

“And we cover a really diverse cross-section of sectors too, from technology to retail, leisure to engineering and many more,” adds Damien.

Those chapters are brought to life through a purely impartial process that twines publicly-available data from Companies House with verification of smaller firms’ abbreviated accounts to collate windows into companies’ respective financial worlds.

The 2023 list will be revealed at a Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art event, where – as in previous years – awards will be handed to the small, medium and large firms with the greatest growth successes, before an overall winner is crowned.

“To qualify, a business’ growth must be sustained and sustainable, and it must be profitable,” says Damien.

“And it is a great feeling when you contact a company, which is all those things, and say it has made the list, having done so on an entirely objective basis.”

Satisfying too, says Damien, is the catapulting impact Fastest 50 has on the backbone of the region’s employment landscape – its small business community.

He says: “It’s wonderful to have companies, some who aren’t on many radars, appear on the list.

“While providing an opportunity for celebration, it also allows them to stand on a pedestal and shout about themselves as a successful organisation and employer of choice.

“It’s fantastic too for a scaling or family-led business to see its name up in lights alongside regular Fastest 50 firms like clothing company END, which has enjoyed stratospheric, sustained growth.

“And such is the draw now, that some businesses write to us when they believe they’ve had a good year, because they’re so keen to be included.”

Equally important, however, says Damien, who joined Ward Hadaway in 2000, is the appearance of larger, more historic firms on the blue-ribbon list, particularly debutants or very recent inclusions, for they illustrate a desire to continue breaking new ground, rather than becoming static in the marketplace.

Referring to 1869-founded, employee-owned builders’ merchant JT Dove, which made its Fastest 50 bow in 2022 following a 136 per cent rise in pre-distribution profits, Damien says: “There are always new firms to the list, and some which are incredibly well-established but, for whatever reason, have never featured before.

“That was the case with JT Dove, which has been a part of the North East business community fabric for so long.

“It made Fastest 50 after launching a growth strategy that is continuing to deliver significant progress, and it was fantastic to see its name on the list.”

The insight, though, extends yet further, with the feats of END, JT Dove and many others providing a barometer of the North East’s commercial health, which, by association, works to catalyse Ward Hadaway’s client support.

Damien says: “The firms who do well provide an indication of the economy and which sectors have prospered amid often difficult circumstances.

“And that creates a bigger picture that takes us from lawyers practising law to a team with much broader knowledge of regional businesses, sectors and the reasons behind their successes.”

Damien adds: “The best part of my job is getting to know companies, their people and why they are doing well.

“And Fastest 50 is a wonderful extension of that.”



“The awards are a breath of fresh air in this permacrisis period we find ourselves living through; it’s good to celebrate success and look positively to the future”

Paul Griffiths, Managing director, The Storage Place

Named the fastest-growing small business in the North East for 2022


Making the list

To be part of the North East Fastest 50 list, organisations must be:

• A private company

• Based in the region

• Profitable, have experienced turnover increases and recorded turnover of more than £1 million in each of the last three years.