Meet the Yorkshire entrepreneur behind Britain's third fastest growing business

It’s ironic that a company which is 104 years old is the third fastest growing business in Britain but Jonathan Turner enjoys surprising people.

The chief executive of Bayford Group, an entrepreneurial business that focuses on the energy, property and hospitality sectors, is just sorry he’s not number one in The Sunday Times 100 2023 – a list of Britain’s fastest-growing private companies.

The group, which has grown its turnover by 268 per cent to £194.6m in the last three years, shot up the list from the already impressive number 22 slot but Turner admits he is a ‘high achiever and very competitive’.

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“First or second would have been better,” he says on a video call from his office at Bowcliffe Hall in Bramham, Wetherby.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of Bayford Group.Jonathan Turner, chief executive of Bayford Group.
Jonathan Turner, chief executive of Bayford Group.

Since starting life as a coal merchant’s business founded by demobbed soldiers in 1919, the group has launched, merged, acquired and sold more than 30 firms.

Despite his competitiveness, Turner, who took over the firm after completing a family management buy-out in 2004, insists his focus isn’t on ranking high in lists. He’s just doing what he does best.

Many adjectives used to describe one of the biggest personalities in Yorkshire business over the years, including ‘swashbuckling’, ‘chaotic and ‘Tigger personified’. Turner is the ideas man with seemingly no limits. If he’s determined to do something, there’s no stopping him.

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"By turnover we’re one of Britain’s biggest private companies and we have been for a while but then I’ll sell something and start something from scratch and then we drop off the lists, and then we come back and people say ‘wow, how did you do that?’ and I say, ‘the same way I did it last time’. It’s just what we do,” Turner says.

The company, which traditonally made its money from fossil fuels, is now focusing all its efforts on green energy.

Six years ago, Bayford launched Dutch company Gulf Gas and Power, which Turner says is now the third largest energy supplier in Holland.

It acquired the energy supplier E Gas and Electricity in 2020 and the following year it made a “multimillion-pound” investment to take a majority stake in RAW Charging, an electric vehicle charging infrastructure business, which he merged with a similar EV charging installation business that he started from scratch.

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The company has contracts with Alton Towers, the National Trust, 800 Greene King pubs and McArthurGlen retail outlets all over the country,

"I’ve put fuel in vehicles for the whole of my career so the logical thing for me to get into is EV charging,” Turner says.

"We’ve got a pipeline of more than 50,000 EV chargers which is really exciting because it’s the future.”

The company also made a seven figure investment into Jumptech, becoming a major shareholder in the EV software business, and 18 months ago it invested in a lithium mine in Teesdale, County Durham.

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Bayford is also the largest shareholder in Sheffield-based Fulcrum, a provider of utility services including, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, renewable energy infrastructure services and smart metering.

"I love energy, particularly as technology changes,” Turner says. “I can see things happening. I have this weird visionary entrepreneurial brain and I seem to get into the right place at the right time.”

He adds: “Everything we do tends to lead towards cleaner energy. It has to, quite frankly. I think we have a responsibility in the energy business to do that.”

Next on Turner’s agenda is hydrogen, which has the potential to generate energy with hardly any CO2 emissions, but it’s expensive and there are challenges around harnessing it as a gas on a large scale.

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"I think hydrogen is the future for industrial production and vehicles,” he says. “Bin lorries are a great example of where we can use hydrogen because they don’t do much mileage.”

He adds: “I’m not remotely fazed when people tell me hydrogen won’t work. When people tell me things won’t work, I think ‘great. I’ll make it work’.

"I believe there’s a great future with hydrogen. It’s complicated, it’s expensive, there are an awful lot of obstacles but as entrepreneurs we smash them out of the way.”

Meanwhile, Turner says his hospitality companies at Bowcliffe Hall and The Yorke Arms at Nidderdale – what he calls his ‘making people happy’ businesses – are also growing.

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He bought the Michelin starred Yorke Arms in 2017 and turned the restaurant into an elite country house for hire during the pandemic in 2020.

Is he glad he made that decision? “Yes I am,” he says emphatically. “Hospitality, as everyone knows, is a very difficult business to make money in.

"Our chef Frances Atkins deciding to leave plus Covid gave us an opportunity to change the way we do things and we’re very happy with it. Will it be a restaurant again in the future? It might be, you never know, but I don’t think it’ll be me who does it.”

Turner says his motto in life is to ‘have fun and make money – in that order’, adding that he has no time for ‘miserable’ people.

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However, he acknowledges it’s tough running businesses at the moment, particularly in the energy sector.

"I’ve bought all the energy for my customers now for winter. Have I bought enough? Is it going to be cold? Is it going to be warm? Have I bought too much. If so, at what price? It’s very difficult,” he says.

Interest rates, inflation and global politics may make business hard to navigate at the moment but Turner remains an eternal optimist.

"People say we’re going into recession, but I’m not going into recession. I’ll do something else if you don’t mind,” he laughs. “I don’t listen to what everybody else says.”