City Refrigeration

Britain. Rank: 1. Sales: ¬324 million

In 1985, Willie Haughey and his wife, Susan, started a small business providing pubs in northeast England and Scotland with refrigeration and technical services, investing about $100,000 that Willie had made working for a Carrier air-conditioning branch in the scorching Persian Gulf states. Almost two decades later, the two are running a major company with blue-chip clients from their base in Glasgow. Willie, who serves as executive chairman, says that City Refrigeration Holdings Ltd., with close to 10,500 employees, will bring in some €360 million in revenues this year. Earnings before interest and taxes will be an estimated €11 million.

The Haugheys have capitalized on the outsourcing craze. They started working with pubs, but in 1997 they folded in three building contracting companies they also owned. "What we had done by accident was form a facilities management company," Haughey says. Accident or not, the Haugheys' timing was brilliant as the market for business services was taking off in Britain.

In 1997, they landed a €7.2 million per year contract to service supermarket chain ASDA, since acquired by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT ) City now services some 260 ASDA stores, and the annual value of the contract is many times larger. City personnel at ASDA do everything from running the main switchboard to security and pest control. Susan Haughey manages the call-center business and other communications. Other clients include Interbrew (ABV ) and Anheuser-Busch Cos (BUD ). Haughey, 48, anticipates reaching €720 million or so in revenues in two or three years.

You would think that running one large company would be enough -- not for the Haugheys. Over the years they have started 18 businesses, ranging from pubs to hotels -- all of them profitable, they say. The couple cherishes their independence. In 1994 they sold a 30% stake to venture capitalists 3i Group for €1.76 million but bought it back in 1999 for €4.6 million. Haughey says he has no interest "whatsoever" in taking City public. Making money in private is much more enoyable.

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