Scotland’s Top 100 private companies have reported total annual revenue of nearly £40 billion, representing average growth of 26% over the last year, a report by Grant Thornton published today by The Herald reveals.

These businesses, which Grant Thornton’s Scotland Limited 2024 report shows employ about 136,000 people in aggregate, reported total annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £7bn. This is up 65%, or around £2.8bn, over the last year.

Neil McInnes, head of corporate finance Scotland for Grant Thornton, highlighted the challenges faced by private firms north of the Border in recent years and the “grit and resilience” shown by these companies.

He highlighted “several standout performers in the energy sector this year”, among the 100 best-performing Scottish private companies.

Mr McInnes cited as an example NEO Energy, which he declared “has seen a meteoric rise…to secure the new number one spot”.

The Scotland Limited 2024 report is compiled using the most recent publicly available accounts, as of March 31, 2024, of “Scotland’s best-performing private businesses”, which Grant Thornton ranks based on a hybrid measure of data, including turnover and EBITDA.

The report excludes companies that are publicly listed, owned by listed businesses or are the Scottish subsidiaries of companies headquartered in other parts of the UK or overseas.

Grant Thornton notes it then analyses the aggregate financial data of these companies to “gain an insight into the shape and performance of this important part of the Scottish economy, and one which is fundamental to generating prosperity and employment in the country”.

The top five companies by turnover are listed, from first to fifth, as car retailer Arnold Clark, NEO Energy, temporary power specialist Aggreko, Scotch whisky distiller William Grant & Sons, and City Facilities Management.

Aggregate annual turnover of the Top 100 increased to £39.9bn from £31.8bn over the last year.

In terms of EBITDA, the top five companies are listed as NEO Energy, Aggreko, The Macallan and Highland Park distiller Edrington, William Grant & Sons, and Arnold Clark.

The top five companies by employee numbers are listed as Arnold Clark, City Facilities Management, oil services group KCA Deutag, Aggreko, and Bridge of Allan-based Castle View Ventures.

In terms of net assets, the top five among the 100 best-performing Scottish private companies are William Grant & Sons, Arnold Clark, Edrington, media group DC Thomson, and energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Mr McInnes said: “Reflecting on the past decade since launching our first-ever Scotland Limited Report in 2014, our country has been through several seismic shifts that have shaped, influenced and arguably transformed the economic landscape. We have battled a global pandemic, held a historic independence referendum and continue to face uncertainty around inward investment and trading relationships due to Brexit; all against a backdrop of high interest rates and inflation caused by global economic factors.

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“Despite these turbulent times and challenges, we’ve seen Scottish businesses draw on their grit and resilience and have now started to see the market recover as broader sentiment improves and confidence in the future builds.”

He added: “Our Scotland Limited Report 2024 once again shines a light on the 100 most successful private companies that are driving growth and are future-proofing the Scottish economy despite facing several serious headwinds. As at March 2023, an estimated 340,760 private sector businesses were operating in Scotland. To put our Top 100 companies in context, excluding foreign-owned companies, they represent less than 0.1% of the total private company landscape in Scotland, but account for nearly 25% of the total private company revenue and nearly 12% of total private company employment.

“Their achievements and contributions deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. They are exemplars, setting a path that should inspire others. They have demonstrated an ability to innovate, diversify, transform, and grow despite the aforementioned headwinds.”

Mr McInnes declared that this year’s report “tells an incredibly positive story, marking the first full year of results in a post Covid-19 environment”. He said: “Following the first lockdown in March 2020, Scotland’s economy contracted by 23% relative to the period before the measures were introduced. The economy has been slowly recovering on a month-by-month basis since, and we have now started to see a significant upturn in revenue and profit compared to the years preceding it. This is illustrated by a significant jump in turnover and profitability across the majority of the Top 100 profiled in this year’s report.”

Noting there are a record 27 new entrants to the Top 100 this year, Mr McInnes said this “may be a combination of businesses bouncing back from a difficult trading period and natural progression up the ranks as a result of ongoing success”.

Analysing the make-up of this year’s Top 100 table, Mr McInnes said: “Notably, we have seen several standout performers in the energy sector this year. For example, NEO Energy has seen a meteoric rise from featuring [just outside] the top 20 last year to secure the new number one spot. Interestingly, one of the fastest-growing companies behind NEO Energy is an independent family business, CCL Components, which supplies solar energy equipment. This is a brand-new entrant to this year’s report, yet it has catapulted straight into the number 50 spot.”

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He added: “Target Healthcare, which is a distinguished MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency)-approved pharmaceutical manufacturer and wholesaler, is an interesting example in this regard. It only formed a decade ago but has grown rapidly following various acquisitions of pharmaceutical manufacturers, and debuts in our report at number 89. Our 2024 report also sees the return of the technology sector being represented in the Top 100, with Petroleum Experts (80) earning their place. It will be interesting to monitor the progress of these and other new entrants in the coming years.

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“This all adds up to an exciting time for Scotland and it is our pleasure to congratulate and acknowledge these success stories. Despite Scotland’s undoubted entrepreneurial zeal and fiscal acumen, leading the way is never easy, but these inspiring businesses have done an incredible job of using creativity and commercial nous to grow their operations regardless of the challenging conditions.”

Grant Thornton highlighted major progress by Scotland’s most successful private companies, on several key measures.

It said: “While Scotland is still impacted by the unprecedented geopolitical factors and global issues of the last few years, the evolving story is a positive one of growth, with a marked increase in the trading performance of the Top 100 in the current period. All metrics are substantially up over the last four years: turnover up 38%; EBITDA up 95%; net assets up 34%."

Grant Thornton added: "Only 13 companies’ turnover decreased in the year, indicative of a recovering economy, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, 19 companies delivered more than 50% growth in turnover.

"Employment levels were broadly flat, with nearly 136,000 people being employed by the Top 100 companies. Anecdotally, the impact of more automation and technology in the workplace could be an explanation for flat employment rates against a backdrop of significant revenue growth. Interestingly though, whilst employment levels have remained flat, the aggregate remuneration has increased by 15%, which is a positive sign of employees sharing in the successes enjoyed by these businesses.”