Yorkshire leaders triumph at EY awards hosted by BBC's Steph McGovern

Steph McGovern Picture Bruce RollinsonSteph McGovern Picture Bruce Rollinson
Steph McGovern Picture Bruce Rollinson
AN entrepreneur who helped to save more than 1,000 jobs at a Yorkshire-based food group has received one of the North of England's most prestigious business awards.

Di Walker, the executive chairman of Karro Food Group, was named as the overall winner of the EY North Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 awards at a ceremony in Manchester last night. Karro, which is based in Malton, is one of the UK’s biggest suppliers of pork products into the retail, foodservice and export markets.

Ms Walker also took home the transformational leader award, and was described by the judges as “an impressive individual” who has restructured the business. Last month, Karro Food Group was sold to CapVest Partners by private equity house Endless in what is understood to be its biggest exit to date. It marked the end of four consecutive years of strong profit growth under the ownership of Endless.

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Karro, which has a turnover in excess of £550m and employs more than 3,100 people, was acquired in January 2013 from Dutch food conglomerate Vion when the firm was a heavy loss-maker.

The transaction saw the Karro management team, led by Ms Walker, remain with the business.

Karro was named the winner of the turnaround category at The Yorkshire Post’s Excellence in Business Awards last year, with Ms Walker also named business leader of the year at the Yorkshire Business Awards 2016.

Victoria Price, EY partner and entrepreneur of the year leader in the North, said: “Di has done a spectacular job with Karro. “Since joining the firm in 2013, after the purchase of Vion Food Group’s UK pork division by Endless and Karro’s existing management team, Di has developed the company strategy and restructured the company, saving over 1000 jobs.

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“Di is an incredibly impressive leader, with a very approachable and down-to-earth manner. She is a worthy winner of the transformational leader award and a clear overall winner.”

Other winners at last night’s awards, which were held at The Stoller Hall in Manchester, included Debbie Bestwick, the chief executive and founder of Team 17 Digital Ltd, based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, who triumphed in the disruptor category.

The judges said: “Debbie has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. She is passionate, driven, credible, and has absolutely transformed the business. She is disrupting the industry with a new business model and could go big. Team 17 is Yorkshire’s hidden gem.”

The international award went to Richard Butterfield, the group chairman at Huddersfield-based Principle Holdings.

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“Richard is a true international visionary, playing a clear innovation role. He is doing an excellent job of bringing his team with him on the journey, supporting his people within the company,’’ the judges said.

EY presented a special award, the family business award of excellence, to Stuart Paver of Pavers Shoes.

The business was founded in 1971 in York and is one of the UK’s biggest shoe retailers with more than 100 outlets in the UK and Ireland. Mr Paver made history when his business became the first foreign retailer to be allowed to set up wholly owned stores in India. The winners of the scale up category were Daniel Fairburn, managing director and Sarah Louise Fairburn, the brand & sales director, of L J Fairburn & Son, which is based in Alford, Lincolnshire.

The judges said: “Daniel and Sarah faced – and overcame – adversity in 2011, with an amazing business recovery. They have grown and developed a business that has been able to break into the supermarket supply chain, making their product available UK-wide.”

The awards, which attracted entrepreneurs from around the North of England, were hosted by Steph McGovern, the BBC financial journalist.