THE MAYOR dancing with Marilyn Monroe, glitter-lit karaoke, fish and chips on the pier – it could only be the Brighton and Hove Business Awards. Beyond the fun and frolics was a chance for hard-working firms to enjoy a moment of recognition in front of hundreds of their peers. Business editor FINN SCOTT-DELANY reports.
THE BACKDROP could not have been more archetypically Brighton.
Fairground rides on the boards of the Palace Pier, fish and chips in paper cones and wispy pink candy floss on sticks.
Then there was Elvis and Marilyn’s risqué performances which made the front-row of Horatio’s Bar swoon and cringe in equal measure.
But beyond the bawdy fun and rollicking music, it was night to celebrate the city’s success.
A big winner of the Brighton and Hove Business Awards were Ambiental, which scooped two awards – business beyond the city and best environmental company.
Environmental with an international outlook, the flood specialists represent the aspirational side of the Brighton economy.
Managing director Justin Butler said: “This is the year of international for us – we’re doing so much in Australia.
“We do flood mapping and our models have been used more by the insurance industry over there then local models.
“The fact a contemporary business can trade that far away is a great compliment to our expertise.”
For the Young People’s Centre, a safe-haven for young people, which won greatest contribution to the community, awards are not generally on their radar.
Manager Ben Glazenbrook said: “This is not the sort of thing we’re used to. We’re used to getting on with the work we do.
“There’s a significant number of people that struggle so we carry on going about doing our best to help.
“It’s our 30th anniversary this year so to have a bit of recognition like this is amazing.”
Going from strength to strength in recent years Paddle Round the Pier, the world’s largest free beach festival featuring races around the West Pier, fought off stiff competition to triumph in the best event category.
Director Dave Samuel said: “This award is for all the team.
“The event is dependent on the many, many volunteers who make it happen and are the reason we’ve survived so long and so well.
“It’s a fantastic achievement to be recognised.”
The already award-winning children’s book store The Book Nook, which already has one Bahba in its trophy cabinet, won a second Bahba for best independent retailer.
Manager Liz Sampson said: “It’s amazing – I wasn’t expecting it at all.
“We’re incredibly proud and it means a lot to the book store.
“We have an incredible team and an incredible group of people working for us.”
The Kitchen Store was up for an impressive three awards and won the fastest growing business category.
Managing director Alan Margetts said: “We’ve grown a hell of a lot over the last five years and by 23% last year.
“We’re recruiting new people and I’m really chuffed to win.
“There’s been a lot of hard-work and commitment over the last ten years.”
Digital marketing agency DC Storm is riding a wave of success with an award for the best professional services.
Client director David Hardy said: “It’s great to be recognised in Brighton. We’ve just been bought by a large company [Rakuten] but we’re really happy to stay and do business in Brighton.
“Being in this city is a big part of our identity as a company and we hope to be here for a long time to come.”
Not all awards went to newcomers, with one high-profile attraction being awarded with best place to visit.
Max Leviston, general manager of the Sealife Centre, said: “This is the first time we’ve entered this category and we’re really proud to win. It’s amazing.
“It’s testament to all the hard work we put it into conserving the centre and work in the community to create jobs.
“The city should be proud to have the oldest aquarium in the world.”
In such a creative city any award was always going to be competitive, which was all the more reason for digital agency BozBoz to be proud of their award for Best Creative Industry.
Account director Matt Bethell said: “It’s fantastic to work in such a creative place and to win in a creative category.
“Even to get nominated was a great thing but to win is such a privilege.
“We’ll see how the award helps but you’re only as good as your last piece of work.
“Hopefully we can reap the rewards.”
One of the big surprises of the night was for Tony Mernagh, executive director of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, who was given a This is Your Life-style tribute for best Brightonion by awards organiser Caraline Brown, director of Midnight Communications.
He is to stand down next year after 12 years in charge.
Speaking afterwards Mr Mernagh said: “It was a complete shock.
Normally I would have prepared something.
“So many people managed to keep it a secret.
“I’m the man that’s supposed to be able to see into the future so it’s ruined my reputation.
“The award is the culmination of 15 years’ hard work.
“It’s a privilege to work in Brighton and Hove but I didn’t except to be lauded for it. It’s been a gas and I’m overwhelmed.”
The best newcomer award shines a spotlight on start-ups some less than a year old.
Matt Parkinson, managing director of e-commerce firm Gene Commerce which started 11 months ago, said: “I’m very proud of the whole team.
“We’ve put a lot of work in over the last 11 months so it’s a testament to their dedication. We’re going to really enjoy the recognition.”
An award for the big-hitters was managing director of the year, with several high-profile business leaders vying for the top spot.
In the end Neil Purssey, MD of Fireco which manufactures fire safety equipment, was victorious.
He said: “I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful wife.
“You need a lot of luck in business but I’ve also got a great team.
“Being a leader is like keeping the plates spinning.
“I’m actually becoming executive chairman and making way for a new MD so it’s great to get this award.”
Executive recruitment agency Stelfox won best place to work.
Managing director Steve Kerassitis said: “Our work is executive search at a senior level on an international basis for some of the biggest names in our industry.
“We always bring a distinctly Brighton approach to our work, particularly in quality, speed and efficiency.
“This can only be done by a team who love what they do. Everyone in our team is highly trained and crucial to the continual success of Stelfox.”
Sponsors for 2014 include Allied Irish Bank, Brighton & Hove Jobs.com, Cardens Accountants, Qualifa, Graves Jenkins, Classic Consulting, Cluttons, Martin Searle Solicitors, MD Hub and Close Brothers Invoice Finance.
The Argus, Absolute Brighton and Juice 107.2FM were media partners.
The BAHBAs were also supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Brighton and Hove City Council, the Brighton Business Curry Club and the Tourism Alliance.