This year’s high turnout for the Growth Company Awards was a measure of the strength of the uniqueness of the event, with shortlists being compiled by contacting a wealth of CEOs in the smaller business space to canvass opinions on the advisers they retain.
Feedback, coupled with the counsel of the event’s judging panel, helped narrow the field and establish the overall winners – the definitive list of advisers for small and medium-sized enterprises to consult.
Vitesse Media chief executive Leslie Copeland introduced the ceremony with a speech dictated by the notion that the economic and financial backdrop to the 2011 ceremony was not fundamentally different to last year, with continuing geopolitical issues providing little in the way of support.
However, his observation that the total funds raised on junior markets amounted to £1.68 billion, a leap of 80 per cent over the last year, is solid proof that cash is still available for existing public companies.
Chilton Taylor, head of capital markets at joint AIM Accountant of the Year winner Baker Tilly, says the firm is working on several potential flotations, but that the IPO market remains fragile.
‘Good companies must seek to finance their growth plans and we are seeing a number of such opportunities. However, whether this demand will be matched by the supply of funds from institutions is still a question.’
Baker Tilly is a trusted adviser among its clients. David Port, executive chairman of coal operator ATH Resources, has been with Baker Tilly for some 13 years, initially receiving corporate finance advice and moving on to audit work with the firm.
‘They have the right combination of professionalism and being to help you through difficult times as well. They’re good at personal relationships,’ says Port.
For the other AIM Accountant of the Year winner, BDO, IPO activity isn’t as disappointing as one might at first imagine.
The number of flotations in 2010 increased for the firm on 2009, doing nine last year compared to five the previous. Partner in BDO’s Transaction Services Chris Searle says he is currently busy doing about ten.
‘A lot of the work I do is in the mining and oil and gas sectors and oil prices are still high, as well as other commodity prices such as gold being high too. As long as those high prices are maintained then the outlook for such companies’ IPOs is good for the rest of this calendar year,’ adds Searle.
With more than 1,000 offices in over 100 countries, BDO is the fifth largest accountancy network in the world, with the objective of delivering clients a consistently seamless service worldwide. The operator impressed the judges with an average score of 3.89 out of 5, where 5 is ‘very good’, for the question ‘How do you rate the performance of your auditor?’
In the AIM Lawyer of the Year category, Nabarro took the crown from last year’s victors Eversheds. Nabarro, with offices in London and Sheffield, has been working hard at building its AIM profile and has enjoyed a good year so far after advising on 13 flotations in 2010 with a market cap of £2.5 billion, and is busy across the board with IPO and M&A work across a variety of sectors.
The firm is ranked in the top ten law firms by the Hemscott AIM Advisers Rankings Guide and attracted the most number of top ratings by the judges in its category, with nine out of 12 giving it top marks.
Clare Grayston, corporate partner at the firm, says the IPO work is predominantly resources and international, particularly Asia, with relatively little domestic AIM IPO work around.
Adds Grayston, ‘Our corporate team has a strong track record dealing with all types of AIM transactions. Our specialist sector knowledge combined with our expertise in areas such as tax, employment and pensions enables us to truly understand our clients’ business issues and provide rounded practical advice.’
You’ll struggle to find a small cap adviser that hasn’t found market conditions to be tough, and St Helens Capital Partners, winner of the PLUS Adviser of the Year award is no exception.
‘The volume of good quality transactions is lower than it has been for some time,’ says executive chairman Oliver Cooke. ‘But we are committed to delivering value to our clients through the provision of good quality corporate finance advice and to doing what we can to maintain and improve the quality of companies joining the market. We see this as being the only route to encourage the involvement of institutional investors.’
VCT Fund Manager of the Year Unicorn snatched the title from last year’s winner Elderstreet and reports a promising fund performance year to date. Executive director and senior fund manager Chris Hutchinson says that all five of the OEIC funds overseen by Unicorn are top decile in their respective asset classes.
‘That leads us to believe that despite fairly wobbly market conditions, each of those funds can continue to perform over the medium and long term,’ he says. ‘We’re not seeking to have number one performing funds and taking undue risks to achieve that performance, but to consolidate with consistent superior performance.’
Brewin Dolphin is no stranger to the AIM Adviser of the Year award, having won the gong for the second year in a row. What sets the firm apart from others?
Mark Brady, managing director in the finance division says that it’s the firm’s quality research product and an experienced corporate finance team. ‘Our team has worked together for many years in good and bad market conditions – clients have told us that they like the stability that this brings to their relationship with us.
‘In many cases they have dealt with the same team members at Brewin Dolphin for many years and they know that we understand their business and their aspirations without them having to spend time explaining it every time we meet,’ he adds.
Cenkos Securities took the Aim Broker of the Year award. Head of corporate finance Nicholas Wells says the firm has made an encouraging start to the year, raising more than £400 million for its clients so far.
‘We’re clearly not in a fundraising bull market but there’s enough to put us in a pretty good position.’
In another of the service provider categories – Financial PR company of the year – Threadneedle saw off strong competition from FD, Walbrook, Winningtons, Buchanan and Abchurch to storm to victory. Judges praised feedback from the many businesses that Threadneedle has served, noting that it was indeed achieving its goal of growth through reputation by focusing on outstanding levels of service.
Graham Herring, managing director of the PR agency, says to have won an award where the nominations are from the very plc management teams it represents was the highest praise the company could wish for.
He explains, ‘Each company has different strengths, faces different challenges and at Threadneedle we pride ourselves on our expertise to create individual communications programmes to fit those needs.
‘We have put together an excellent team, drawing from different backgrounds such as stockbroking and financial journalism as well as experienced consultants who have advised companies of all sizes, from FTSE 100 to micro-cap, and through all situations.’
In this year’s Analyst of the Year category, Singer Capital Markets picked up the award, while the CF Amati fund landed the accolade of Small-cap Fund of the Year.
Paul Jourdan, chief executive of Amati Global Investors and co-manager of the fund, said the company was pleased to have landed a ringing endorsement of its long-term commitment to the UK smaller-quoted company asset class.
The fund’s mandate aims for long-term capital growth by investing in UK-quoted companies with market capitalisations up to £2 billion and has achieved strong returns for investors over the past year. A £1,000 investment in the fund over the 12 months to the end of May would have grown to £1,438 – a truly stunning performance.
In the two individual company awards, this year saw exceptionally strong competition and none more so than in the AIM Company of the Year category. Majestic Wine triumphed from the well-respected shortlist in what has been a challenging year for many, but especially so in the retail sector.
The judges commended the company’s out and out customer focus and the sheer diversity of its product range while continually introducing innovative ideas to maximise customer engagement. The PLUS Company of the Year award was scooped by Quercus Publishing.