Revealed: what it is really like to be a top entrepreneur

THEY WERE exciting times, most of which bore fruit but also a bit of tension and agony.

Peter Roberts

Peter Roberts, the executive chairman of Leeds-based Pure Gym, recalled his experiences as the veteran of eight business ventures at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The Yorkshireman was one of 12 winners to receive awards at a glittering ceremony in the City of London on Monday night.

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Mr Roberts, 70, told the audience: “You can’t do it on your own and I would like to thank all the people who have supported me in the past.”

He launched Pure Gym in the depths of the downturn in 2009. It is now the country’s largest gym chain with more than 52,000 members.

The 17th annual event took place at the former Whitbread brewery and featured a cast of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, their wives, colleagues and advisors, plenty of EY staff and, as master of ceremonies, Jeremy Vine, the BBC personality and Strictly Come Dancing contender.

The overall winner was Richard Steeves, the founder and chief executive of Synergy Health, who will go on to represent the UK in the world finals in Monte Carlo next summer.

The Canadian-born biochemist grew his healthcare start-up into a global medial hygiene group worth £1.35bn.

He launched Synergy Health in 1991 to provide surgical packs to reduce HIV infections in operating theatres.

The company has grown in response to rising demand for sterilisation equipment to fight hospital superbugs and now operates internationally, processing more than 150m reusable medical and surgical instruments a year.

On winning his award, Mr Steeves said he and his management team work hard to make sure that everyone is empowered within the business, a FTSE 250 organisation.

Judges said his story was one of constant improvement to the benefit of wider society.

Stuart Watson, who leads the UK Entrepreneur Of The Year programme and is senior partner of EY in Yorkshire, said the 35 shortlisted entrepreneurs, all regional winners, represented a significant economic force in their own right with revenues of £3.5bn and 300,000 employees.

He said: “They come from a diverse range of backgrounds, proving there is no single or normal path to becoming an entrepreneur.

“Our finalists are part of the entrepreneurial backbone of the UK economy. To build a world-class economy you need world-class entrepreneurs.”

Host Jeremy Vine said: “The very nature of entrepreneurship is to innovate and create sectors where none existed before. Often that means building a business that defies easy categorisation.”

Steve Varley, chairman of EY in UK and Ireland, said British business has an exciting future.

“There is a mood of optimism and dynamism,” he told the audience.