Sunderland’s businesses celebrate at the Echo Portfolio Business Awards

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Businesses both big and small were represented at the Sunderland Echo’s Portfolio Business Awards. Kevin Clark reports on a great night on Wearside.

Oil Consultants was a double winner at the Sunderland Echo Portfolio Business Awards 2013.

Award winners at the Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2013 presentation evening held at the Stadium of Light..

Award winners at the Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2013 presentation evening held at the Stadium of Light..

The Washington firm, which provides specialist staff to energy firms across the globe, was named Business of the Year, and also scooped the Export award.

“The overall winner is a company which has firmly established itself as a global leader in its field, due to the quality of its service and calibre of its staff,” said our judges.

“It has created a business which can supply specialists around the world at a moment’s notice, with a 50-strong workforce who regularly have to deal with a demanding client base.

“Yet despite its worldwide business base, the company stays close to its roots, resisting the temptation to move out of the North East

“This winner believes its reputation is forged on attention to every detail in a fast-moving world, intimate knowledge of the industry it works in – and ensuring the best consultants are supplied to satisfied customers who return time and time again.”

Ian Williams, Sunderland City Council’s Business Investment Director, presented the trophy on behalf of sponsor Make It Sunderland to Dawn Stables, Melissa Young and Sonja Fielding.

“We don’t make a big noise about what we do so to win something like this is absolutely amazing,” said Melissa.

“Everybody works really hard and this is for all of them.”

Ian Williams had also presented the ladies with the Export trophy.

“Our winner really has captured an international share of their market, with clients in more than 90 countries,” said the judges.

“A deep understanding of the needs of their industry, rapid expansion and a reputation for delivering are the reasons the judges were unanimous in their decision.”

“We have been recognised nationally and internationally but to be recognised locally means so much,” said Sonja.

The standard this year was so high the judges decided to award a special commendation in the Business of the Year category.

Peter Moth, Anna Snell and James Bustard collected the certificate on behalf of the National Glass Centre.

“This organisation has successfully put Sunderland on the national – if not international – map and is playing a huge role in building the area’s tourism profile,” said the judges.

“It has its roots in Wearside’s history but is now very much a state-of-the-art offering, with much to be admired.”

“With 90,000 visitors in the last three months, it has been a great year,” said James.

Guest speaker Kevin Ball kicked off the evening, appropriately enough, presenting the training award on behalf of sponsor SAFC to husband and wife partners Sonia and Stephen Dutton and Joanne and Gary Crosby, of winner Cultivate Training.

“The winner in this category is the perfect example of how a negative can be turned into a positive,” said the judges. “Its founders used the threat of redundancy to apply their expertise to a new company and in a very short period of time have created an enviable reputation. With innovative training courses and offering support in a diverse range of sectors, the judges believe this company will go from strength to strength.”

“We are absolutely delighted and a bit shocked,” said Sonia. “We have worked very hard and it is fantastic to be recognised.”

Our Technology award was next up, presented by Gary Storey, director of sponsor Azure.

“The winner is a fantastic example of using of-the-moment technology not only for the benefit of business, but of society as a whole.

“Innovative, exciting, and instrumental in removing barriers for disabled people this company is using technology to really make a difference.”

Neil Herron, of winner Assist–MI, collected the trophy and paid tribute to partner Gary McFarlane, who has provided the drive for the business.

“Gary is not from here, so the fact that somebody relocated to Sunderland to build a business here is a tribute to the area,” he said.

Our Employer of the Year award honours those businesses which recognise when it comes to staff, you only get out what you put in.

Peter Walls, chief executive of sponsor Gentoo, presented the trophy to Ralph Saelzer, Brenda Forster and Stephanie Hogan of Liebherr.

“The winner in this category prides itself on the family values it passes on to its employees and has a loyal workforce who know they have job security,” said the judges.

“This company feels it has a moral obligation to train the next generation and considers itself a global company with a local commitment.” A delighted Brenda said: “This award is for our employees – every single one of them does a fantastic job.”

The low-carbon economy is increasingly vital for Wearside, a fact recognised by our Green award.

“Our winner has invested heavily in innovation, investment and staff training which has paid dividends,” said the judges.

“The company provides its services to a wide range of public and private sector clients, saving them hundreds of thousands of pounds year on year, as well as making a massive positive impact on the environment.

“With some impressive expansion plans on the cards, this company was an obvious choice.”

Maxine Mayhew, group commercial director with sponsor Northumbrian Water, presented the award to Gordon O’Brien, of winner O’Brien and Sons Ltd.

“I was not expecting this – I am really proud” he said.

The standard of entries in our Creative category was so high that the judges decided to award a runner-up certificate to Emma Gerry, of Emma Enchanted.

“I did not expect it at all,” said a thrilled Emma. “I have had a great night – I am really glad we came.”

Our judges described the winner as “a business which grew out of a passion and which in just a few short years has transformed itself into an operation which provides a real tourism boost for Wearside.

“It’s living proof that if your heart is really in what you want to do, anything is possible.”

Echo editor John Szymanski took to the stage to present the trophy to Kimberley Thompson, Rachel Smith. Donna Yeoman, Michael Tuckwell and Ben Marshall of Sunnycon.

“We’re shocked but we are absolutely buzzing,” said Kimberley.

Our Special Community award attracted a bumper crop of entries this year, but one stood out above the rest.

“This organisation provides a wide range of support services, covering everything from simple lifeskills to making people feel valued, which had led to giving them a fresh start in life,” said the judges.

Karen Hindhaugh, operations director of sponsor CES, presented the trophy to Sonia Ritchie-Park and mum Christine Ritchie, of the Salvation Army’s Swan Lodge.

“This is for all our residents who go out into the community to help others,” said Christine.Kam Chera and Diego Mino, of winner Amore Group, collected the Leisure trophy from Claire Truscott, of sponsor Mortons Solicitors.

“Anyone can thrive in a business when times are good, but when the going gets tough it really separates the men from the boys,” said the judges.

“This is a company which has been through some serious difficulties, not of their own making. It has, however, faced them head on and has now ridden the storm, expanded and can look forward to a prosperous future.”

“I did not really think we had a chance so we are quite humbled by this,” said Kam. “It will motivate us to work even harder.”

A thriving business community needs new blood and our young Business of the Year category highlights the ones to watch..

Again, the standard was so high the judges decided to award a runner-up certificate, which John Lea, Buildbase regional director for the North East, presented to June and Robin Clark of Serendipity Tea and Trinkets on behalf of sponsor Grafton Group.

“Our runner-up has been in operation for less than 18 months but has made a big impact within the local community,” said the judges.

“With a variety of exciting initiatives, this business really has created a company which everyone can get involved with.”

Verity Dodd and Sonia Kulkarni collected the trophy for winner 1879 Events Management.

“This year’s winner is a brilliant example of how you can take a particular aspect of an existing company and diversify to great effect,” was the judge’s verdict.

“Despite operating in a highly-competitive sector, this organisation has taken a lion’s share of the market and has won major contracts from around the region, with plans to grow nationally.”

A delighted Verity said: “This rewards 18 months of very hard work from all the staff.”

Our Small Business award honours those who are the bedrock of the Wearside’s economy.

“One business stood out,” said the judges, “proving Wearside really can compete with the very best.

“Working with an exclusive clientele, this company produces projects to the very highest specifications for what can be an incredibly demanding customer base.”

Gemma Ganley, of sponsor Thompson Waste Centres, presented the trophy to Mick Guthrie of Whitewaters.

“I am very happy,” said Mick. “I thought we were in with a chance – there were some very good companies in the category, but we are very proud of what we have achieved in the last few years.”

The sheer diversity of nominations in our Medium Business Category made it one of the toughest to decide.

The judges, however, were ‘bowled over by the work ethic of all the staff’ in our winner.

“Traditional values run throughout the company and for experience, this company can’t be touched,” they said.

“It has been plying its trade in Sunderland for more than 100 years and we can honestly say it is the top banana.”

Marketing executive Sam Czwordon-Wright presented the trophy, on behalf of sponsor The Bridges, to Matty Thoburn and son Andrew of Thoburn Fresh Produce.

“I am just overwhelmed,” said Matty. “It is an honour for the whole family and business to receive an award like this.”

Tavistock Leisure claimed the Large Business of the Year award, with Keith Donkin, Mark Hird and Jonathan Graham collecting the trophy from David Cook, of sponsor TTR Barnes.

“This company is renowned for its innovative ideas and at the same time for its loyalty to its staff and its imaginative training programme,” said the judges.

“With more than 400 employees it continues to grow despite operating in a highly-competitive market.”

Our Outstanding Contribution to the City award is in the gift of the City Council.

Council leader Coun Paul Watson presented the trophy to Margaret Elliott, founder of Sunderland Home Care Associates.

“This year’s worthy winner has well and truly been instrumental in putting Sunderland on the map, having been a leading light in the social enterprise movement for many years before founding a company which is now held up nationwide as an example of best practice,” said the commendation.

“From humble beginnings this employee-owned company has become one of the largest of its kind in the country yet staying true its belief of putting people before profits.

“Our winner has driven the growth of this organisation, developing a range of initiatives which help its 600-plus service users lead better, fuller lives.

“The model created in Sunderland has now been replicated in Yorkshire and in the North West and it is the person we are honouring tonight who is instrumental in this success.”

An overwhelmed Margaret said: “It is absolutely fabulous but it is not about me, it is about everybody in the company.”