THE best in business took centre stage last night.
The cream of the town’s companies and business personalities gathered at the Galpharm Stadium for the Huddersfield Examiner Business Awards.
The 300-plus audience acclaimed the winners of 11 categories covering all aspects of business – from start-up firms to companies with national and international reputations. Sectors represented by the winners included manufacturing, leisure and tourism, financial services, marketing and design and energy.
BBC Look North presenter Harry Gration hosted the event, which was sponsored by Huddersfield law firm Chadwick Lawrence.
David Armitage, chairman of Chapel Hill-based textile engineering firm Sellers won the top accolade of Business Person of the Year in recognition of his successes at the helm of Sellers and his support for a wide variety of organisations in Huddersfield.
The award was presented by Jeremy Garside, managing partner of Chadwick Lawrence, who said Mr Armitage had a passion for promoting the town. Jeremy added: “David Armitage has business – and Huddersfield – in his blood.”
Accepting the award to resounding applause, Mr Armitage said: “It’s quite a shock, but it is a tremendous honour because there are so many deserving people and businesses here tonight.”
And he told nominees and winners: “You are doing a tremendous job. You get no help, no financial support and no government support – but you get through those barriers and you are a great credit to the town.”
Earlier, guest speaker Deirdre Bounds enthused a packed audience with the rags-to-riches story of how she founded ethical travel company i-to-i – tracing its origins operating from a bedsit in Leeds and later above a pizza shop in Headingley to the day she sold the business to holidays giant First Choice for £20m.
The former comedienne said she got the idea for a “meaningful travel and gap-year company” after returning from five years travelling to countries including Greece, China and Australia.
She organised training courses for gap-year students wanting to teach English abroad. Later, she launched an online training course to attract backpackers already in places like Bali, Bangkok and Beijing.
Today, i-to-i is the world’s leading ethical travel company with offices on three continents, sending 20,000 travellers abroad each year.
Said Ms Bounds: “I started with no business contacts, no knowledge of how to run a business and no money. I had to rely on my drive, my energy, my boundless enthusiasm and my intuition.”
Success was down to having the right product in the right place and at the right time. “I set up a company run by travellers for travellers and we knew our customer very well,” she said.
In her address, Ms Bounds also offered advice to fellow entrepreneurs, saying: “If you have an idea, someone will steal it. Be the first to market and get it on the world stage.”
She added: “I honestly believe the future of business cannot only be about profit.
“Some of the great businesses, such as Bodyshop, Innocent Smoothies and Fairtrade succeed because they are run by smart people who have linked into the public consciousness. Do something for your local community because your consumers will buy more of your products and your staff will stay with you.”
Ms Bounds also challenged business people to take risks, saying: “If I never take a risk and never do anything wrong I will never be original.
“I have a very high tolerance for mistakes. The only way we grow is by taking some risks.
“It is all right to be inefficient, but don’t be irrelevant because the moment your customer stops thinking about you, you have lost it.”
For the full four-page special on the business awards, see today's Examiner.