YORKSHIRE'S brightest business talent was honoured at the Yorkshire Post Business Awards yesterday in front of an audience including Sarah, Duchess of York and chief executive of Marks & Spencer Stuart Rose.
The event is organised by the Variety Club and sponsored by the Yorkshire Post and executive head-hunting firm Whitehead Mann.
The Business Leader of the Year Award was presented to Chris Rea, the chief executive of Rotherham-based AES Engineering, by Yorkshire Post editor Peter Charlton.
AES Engineering is the holding company of the AESSEAL Group, a world leader in the mechanical sealing industry. Mechanical seals are used in pumps and rotating equipment to prevent liquids and gases from escaping into the environment.
AES was founded in 1979 by Mr Rea with just five staff. Over the last 25 years the business has achieved an unbroken track record of turnover and profit growth. It has a network of 60 branches in 30 countries, employing more than 900 people.
Speaking after receiving the award, Mr Rea said: "At some point in our lives we all work for the recognition of our peers, and it doesn't get any better than this. It's the people that sets our company apart.
"Of the people we had in 1997, 89 per cent of them are still with the company today."
The award for Yorkshire Board of the Year was presented by chief executive of Whitehead Mann Piers Marmion to chief executive of Hull-based Fenner Mark Abrahams.
Fenner is the world leader in conveyor belts. It is enjoying strong demand for its products following the massive rise in coal and energy prices.
Mr Abrahams said understanding cultural differences was essential for any business operating in a global market.
The winner of the Yorkshire Small Business of the Year title was Leeds-based Pharmacy2U. Managing director Daniel Lee received the award from David Spencer, the head of the Yorkshire Business Centre at Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank.
Pharmacy2U was Britain's first internet pharmacy, established in 1999. It is now the country's largest dedicated internet and mail order pharmacy, serving the growing number of people who are unable or unwilling to visit high street pharmacies.
Mr Lee said after receiving his award: "We are very excited by the opportunities we have created. We have this technology that integrates into the GP (General Practitioner) system. There's nobody else in this market-place – we are absolutely unique."
The Variety Club Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by the Duchess of York to Leslie Silver, who served with Bomber Command in the Second World War and went on to become a leading figure in Leeds' paint industry.
He was the driving force behind the development of the Leyland Paints Company.
Since the awards were launched by the Variety Club two decades ago the lunch has become one of the biggest events in the regional calendar.
Attracting an audience of more than 500 business leaders to the Queens Hotel in Leeds, the awards have raised millions of pounds for the Variety Club children's charity.
The event is supported by Leeds Bradford International Airport, law firm Pinsent Masons, accountants Deloitte, merchant bank NM Rothschild, public relations firm Buchanan Communications, Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank and venture capital firm YFM Group.
The judging panel was chaired by John Nickell-Lean of executive headhunting firm Whitehead Mann and included Martin Shaw of Pinsent Masons; Martin Jenkins of Deloitte; David Spencer of Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank; Phil Cammerman of YFM Group, Peter Wilkinson of InTechnology; Nimble Thompson of the Institute of Directors, David Forbes of NM Rothschild and Richard Gregory of Yorkshire Bank and YorkshireScience.
VIDEO EXTRA: Watch profiles of the winning companies as seen by the audience at the event
Audio interviews with Stuart Rose and Sarah, Duchess or York will be broadcast in BusinessTalk, the Yorkshire Post's weekly business programme, on Tuesday afternoon.