Another amazing night celebrating home-grown ‘best of breed’ businesses 

Ultima Business Solutions revealed its winning qualities from first to last as it gained two major honours at the annual Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards (TVBMA) staged at the Royal Berkshire Conference Centre in Reading.

The IT services provider, successfully offering customers digital transformation through tailored solutions and automation, scooped the first TVBMA honour of the celebratory event by gaining the Best Use of Technology & Innovation Award.

Founded in Reading in 1990, and now a £120m-plus turnover and rapidly growing exponent of IT automation and intelligent processing, Ultima also won the title of ‘Business of the Year’ – the last and most prestigious award of the evening, attended by more than 300 guests.

Ultima led a plethora of talented well-run and predominantly ‘home-grown’ local businesses honoured at this 24th anniversary of the Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards – the longest-running multi-category awards event in the region.

From multinational corporates to Thames Valley charities, from SME of the Year to the Workplace Mental Health Award, the TVBMA event covers and celebrates the performance of business professionals throughout the region.

As David Murray, MD of The Business Magazine and chairman of the awards summed up: “All our finalists are exceptional companies, proving that the Thames Valley and our Business Awards event continue to attract the best of breed.”

“The Thames Valley continues to be a buoyant and dynamic area attracting inward investment, incubating and nurturing fast-growing companies, and becoming the home of not just world-beating businesses but a wealth of professional services too.

“It’s a fast-moving time to be a business in the region. That’s why recognition from awards like these is so important.”

Murray wholeheartedly thanked the TVBMA judges for their expertise and invaluable efforts and highlighted the enthusiasm of the event sponsors – Cardinal Clinic, Gateley plc, GovGrant, Hays, James Cowper Kreston, NatWest, TPC Leadership, and Curve Workplaces – without whom the gala evening recognising business excellence “simply would not take place”.

Guest after-dinner speaker was Sir Trevor McDonald OBE – one of the most recognisable news presenters in British broadcasting history and a multi-award winner himself for journalism excellence and documentary filmmaking. 

Award-winning broadcasting colleague Rachel Burden – host of the 5Live Breakfast Show and BBC television’s weekend Breakfast show – was the facilitating presenter for the evening.

The event’s chosen charity was last year’s TVBMA Charity of the Year winner, Oxfordshire-based Special Effect, which helps put fun and inclusion back into the lives of people with physical disabilities by using technology ranging from modified joypads to eye-control. Donations from the TVBMA guests raised £1,667.20.


Best use of Technology & Innovation Award – sponsored by GovGrant

Winner: Ultima Business Solutions

Reading-based Ultima has doubled productivity and rapidly increased turnover through its innovative use of robotic process automation (RPA), which has also proved RPA’s worth to customers.

What the judges said …

“We were impressed by Ultima’s clear commitment to technology and innovation, particularly implementation of its RPA service ‘software robots’ to SMEs through simple cloud deployment and as-a-service delivery.”

“RPA take-up of large companies is significant – over 85% – so this is the future and will be widely implemented. Our winner is establishing itself as one of the leaders in this field through a delivery mechanism that works for its clients.”

What the winners’ said …

Presenter Rachel Burden asked: How do you stay ahead in the competitive IT sector?  Client experience director Dave Rogers explained: “There is a lot of competition – IT is going exponential at the moment – but you have to be brave in this current world. You have to put your faith in learning and developing the new things, but also to trust your staff. If you take them on the journey, they will take you to the future.”

Rogers views RPA as a key stepping stone to a smarter IT future: “We are constantly challenged as an organisation to be innovative. Our clients increasingly want to know what added-value services we can offer and their potential outcomes.”

With Ultima having embraced and adopted RPA itself, he added: “It’s a great platform to take to customers and be able to say: ‘Actually we are doing this successfully ourselves and believe you can benefit from it too’.”



  • FliteTrak
  • Open Cosmos
  • P2i
  • Redbox Mobile plc
  • SafeToNet

SME of the Year – sponsored by James Cowper Kreston

Winner: E3D-Online

Based in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, E3D-Online designs and engineers high quality components for the additive manufacturing industry. It has 56 employees, an average year-on-year growth rate of 69%, and a projected £7.2m annual turnover. E3D is ranked 66th in The Sunday Times Tech Track 100.

What the judges said …

We chose our winners this year because of their phenomenal success story – the founders, whose hobby turned into a market-leading, innovative company, continue to set industry standards worldwide. The company has demonstrated its ability to commercialise its innovations and has seen significant sales growth and strong financial performance.”

What the winners’ said …

Congratulations on your TVBMA award. In three words, why are you so successful?  Head of customer service Daniel Halsall replied: “Innovation, community, and staff.”  

“We’ve got a great group of staff, but much of our growth comes from our community, from our massive wealth of customers who bring ideas to us from which we then aim to bring our innovation back to them. They also give us their feedback, so that we can constantly try to improve what we do for them.”

“Innovation is key; we are constantly innovating.”  Halsall admits that he always tells people that he works for a leading engineering company, because of all the product innovation achieved by E3D-Online.

E3D-online started from an Isle of Wight bedroom in 2012, marketed its first product in 2013, and formed as a company in 2014. The company moved to Chalgrove in Oxfordshire to be “near the technology hub that is around Oxford these days.”

The E3D-online business model has also evolved from B2C sales to B2C plus B2B, which has radically increased its level of growth, Halsall explained.



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  • Heppelthwaite the Red Van Plumbers
  • Jargon PR
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  • webexpenses

Workplace Mental Health Award – sponsored by Cardinal Clinic

Winner: EY

Professional services firm EY employs over 700 people in its Reading and Southampton offices and operates an employee-led mental health network to raise awareness and proactively challenge the stigma attached to mental health.

What the judges said …

“It was a real pleasure to see so much effort and initiative being put towards mental health in the workplace. Our winners demonstrated a well-developed and sustained focus – from mental health first aid champions in 2015 to a mature internal mental health network. Apart from mental health support they have shown extensive and innovative ways of trying to reduce mental health stigma.”

What the winners’ said …

How do you get mental health recognised within your company?

Senior manager Katie Dallimore-Fox answered: “I think it comes down to EY treating this as a global initiative within our business, and feeling very strongly about making sure that our people are aware that this a very serious thing to do.”

“This award is 100% about our EY commitment – not one individual, or one office, but us globally making a shift in what it means to have good workplace mental health.”

Counselling relationships are one key EY feature. “Everybody who joins has a work counsellor to map their career progression but also their mental health. Having that direct link to somebody to whom you can put up your hand to say ‘I need some help’ is really important.”

“A lot of people find it difficult to say they have failed or are struggling and breaking down those barriers is most important. We are making really good progress.”

“It all comes down to people and the way they feel – everybody can relate to that. EY is a people organisation and we need to make sure their mental health is in good check, that’s what we are working towards.”



  • En Route International
  • Panasonic
  • Royal Mail Group
  • Softcat
  • Westcoast

Management Team of the Year – sponsored by TPC Leadership

Winner: Westcoast

Founded in 1984, Theale-based Westcoast represents IT vendors by marketing, selling then distributing products and services to resellers. It employs 1,600 people and continues to grow exponentially – a £2.5 billion turnover is expected by the end of 2018.

What the judges said …

As a commercial board since only October 2017, this management team has not missed a beat in driving the business forward to another year of 20% year-on-year growth. Impressively, this growth has been achieved whilst innovating in services, investing in skills and capacity, and in being a good corporate citizen – their gender-pay gap is their industry’s lowest and initiatives like IT in schools are clearly a management passion.”

What the winners’ said …

HR manager Liz Mylum explained that Westcoast management thinking has evolved from excellence in A to B product delivery, to everything involved in the delivery process – complete business solutions for customers.

The board directors have been very clear and communicative about where they want the business to be in five years’ time, not just with its commercially profitable direction, but its strategy to create a different working culture and environment.

“We have gone through an entire journey of better understanding the business, our strategy and our business DNA –­ in other words, what our values and vision will be as we take the company forward in the future.”

“That culture change started with our people, our most valuable business asset. Without them we cannot be successful, so it was really important that our people recognised the essential parts of the business that make us successful.” 

Westcoast turned to its employees and built on the strengths and five key values that they identified and now aim to embrace: bravery, team-spirited, agile and flexible, innovative and unrelenting.



  • CV-Library
  • Roc Search
  • Royal Mail Group
  • Westcoast

Charity of the Year – sponsored by James Cowper Kreston

Winner: Make-A-Wish Foundation

Since this Reading-based charity started in 1986 it has granted more than 12,000 life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses, and is now the largest wish-giving organisation globally, operating in 50 countries, with 70 employees and over 900 volunteers.

What the judges said …

“This year’s finalists demonstrate the range of outstanding charitable organisations we have across our region, and we thank you all.

“Charities more than ever have to adapt, and our winners this year best demonstrated a clear strategy that through technology, training, structure and governance are bringing a organisational transformation to further increase and expand services to its beneficiaries.”

What the winners’ said …

CEO Jason Suckley revealed: “This year we are going to grant over 1,000 wishes for the very first time to children with life-threatening conditions.

“Apart from our global brand as an organisation, our culture is a major strength. We are inspired by what we do, our mission drives us. Egos don’t get in the way. We are all led by the child. Sometimes we have tears in the office….

“If you get the culture right, give passion a direction, then that’s a great start, but on top of that we have clear plans to invest and grow in an efficient way that will enable us to reach many more children.”

Suckley also noted that Make-A-Wish is one of the most-trusted charity brands in the UK. The brand is very emotive, and the things we do change lives, but I like to think that we are transparent as an organisation. I believe people recognise that.”

Sarah Shearman, regional fundraising manager for the south, added: “This award is a massive benefit for us, especially within my region. It will enable us to build and establish more awareness of Make-A-Wish within Thames Valley businesses and organisations.”



  • Berkshire Community Foundation
  • Building For the Future
  • Dingley’s Promise
  • Thrive

Best Company to Work For – sponsored by Hays

Winner: Softcat

Marlow-based IT infrastructure provider Softcat has eight UK offices and 1,300 employees. It aims to be the best IT sector company for employee engagement – based on four core values of passion, intelligence, fun and responsibility.  2017 turnover of £832m is predicted to increase by 24% in 2018.

What the judges said …

“From the moment we walked into this company, we felt their ‘authenticity’. Despite having floated, they’ve managed to keep their inherent ‘anti-corporate’ culture throughout a three-year transition.   

“This company had real depth in what they’ve already done to make a fun and exciting place to work, plus what they have on their agenda to make it even better.”

What the winners’ said …

Rebecca Monk HR director explained the Softcat workstyle philosophy: “We have always said that the only way of keeping our business going, which keeps our customers happy, is to have the happiest employees.”

“In our latest employee satisfaction survey we ‘ve just got a 90% engagement score which is phenomenal. I’ve not seen that rating in any other company I’ve worked for.”

Lily Perkins HR business partner added: “It’s not really like going to work. It’s about having fun while doing a good job that adds value to the company that you love to work for.  We have our core hours, but we also make friends for life.”

“A good example of our anti-corporate culture is our CEO having the worst desk in the entire building. He sits in the middle of the sales floor – we don’t have any offices – and everyone walks past, or chats to him. There’s no hierarchy, it’s not-bureaucratic, …  but it all seems to work very well,” Monk noted.

How do you drive your core values?

“In different ways – for example incentive trips, parties, charity work and a wide range of other commercial community activities – but Softcat has a reasonably structured approach to maintaining them.”



  • BDO UK
  • Blue Apple Contract Catering
  • Crowe
  • Roc Search
  • Shoosmiths
  • STL Communications

Dynamic Business of the Year – sponsored by NatWest

Winner: AVK-SEG

Maidenhead-based AVK-SEG supplies, installs and maintains mission-critical back-up generators and uninterrupted power supply – increasingly for companies with high data demand. Founded in 1989, AVK is targeting £100m turnover within five years.

What the judges said …

“Our winner has created a very profitable and cash generative global business in a rapidly changing, challenging, and highly regulated marketplace, which illustrates its ability to oversee various functions effectively.  AVK-SEG is also servicing ‘trophy clients’ such as NHS, RBS, JP Morgan, and many more, by virtue of its substantial experience, knowledge and dynamism. We are proud to be associated with this business.”

What the winners’ said …

Managing director Chris Pritchard said: “Winning this award is a great honour and I’m glad I have brought most of my management team here today, because they are a big part of our success over the 30 years that we have been running.

“We’ve always tried to be the best in our business and we compete with global players who can dominate some markets, but we recognise that we are smaller players who just need to be better than they are.”

“We know we can be quicker, more nimble than the big companies and can choose best-of-breed products, so we bring in very high quality products from Europe. We project manage everything, designing and delivering bespoke turnkey solutions to meet customer requirements.”

“This Dynamic Business award is fantastic for us. We are in a dynamic space anyway – the data centre market is now seeing exponential growth with major cloud providers growing and needing more power and data. It’s a market growth I see continuing for the next ten years.

We are turning over around £50m now, but have ambitious plans to build that to £100m over the next five years.”



  • Blue Apple Contract Catering
  • Complete I.T.
  • Curve Workplaces
  • Leaders Romans Group
  • Westcoast

Business of the Year – sponsored by Gateley

Winner: Ultima Business Solutions

This Reading-based IT automation services provider employs 450, has a turnover above £120m and is growing at 20% year-on-year.

What the judges said …

“All our finalists are exceptional companies, proving that the Thames Valley Business of the Year category continues to attract the best of breed, but the winner’s trophy is awarded to an outstanding, brilliantly-led local business, currently undergoing rapid and transformational change.

“Ultima is growing significantly by moving from traditional IT services to flexible, tailored solutions that are focused on its customers’ success. Emerging technologies such as intelligent automation and robotic process automation are helping to drive the company forward.

What the winners’ said …

“It’s great to be recognised that we have something a little bit special at Ultima, and not just once but twice at this Awards evening in two very important categories for us,” said client experience director Dave Rogers.

“We are quite a rarity today in being an independent company that has grown organically to get to the size we are now.”  This has taken strong leadership from founder Max McNeill and the board of directors, while instilling a belief among all staff in what Ultima is doing –  helping clients create productive enterprises of today fit for tomorrow, he explained.

The pace of business change has suddenly exploded and it needs companies like ourselves in the IT space to help organisations take on that change and disseminate it into something more manageable and useful to them. 

“Another key thing is that we are not only taking this new technology to market but we are modernising and improving our existing go-to offerings to provide a better client experience all round.” 

Noting Ultima’s 94% client retention, Rogers added: “We are obviously being relevant to our clients’ needs and adding value, while keeping them up with today’s pace of IT change.”



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  • Roc Search
  • Roc Technologies
  • Select Car Leasing
  • Sun Mark