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John Whittaker isn’t a household name but his property puts him at the top of our first 50 Most Influential Northerners

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A property developer who few have heard of? How come John Whittaker tops our first 50 Most Influential Northerners?

Whittaker is the founder of Peel Group and its dominant shareholder. Publicity shy he may be, but if you’re one of the millions of northerners with horizons broadened by the low-cost flight revolution of the last 10 years, then he’s had an impact on your life. Peel owns Liverpool John Lennon Airport, the north’s budget flight hub.

And if you’ve ever sat in a queue backed up to the motorway to buy your Christmas presents at the Trafford Centre, that’s Peel again. Love the grandiose retail centre or loathe it, Whittaker, who once reportedly considered becoming a priest, fought a long, determined battle to win planning permission for his cathedral of shopping. Property developers are given to hype – and when they say they create jobs they actually create the buildings for others to create them in – but his claim that the company could invest £50 billion in the Manchester Ship Canal corridor (Peel owns that, by the way) over the next 30 years means Whittaker, aged 68, will be a fixture in our future lists until he retires.

Setting out to identify the individuals who have the greatest bearing on life in the North West, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East, we chose to look for influence. It’s a broad term, covering economic clout, political power, cultural impact and more. It could mean the people who get talked about around the water cooler – Rio Ferdinand (number 24 in our list) or Peter Kay (27) – but it could also mean the person who made the water cooler.

To begin with, our researchers looked to sectors such as investors, politicians, sportspeople, public sector figures and academia and drew up a longlist of names we felt merited inclusion in the 50 Most Influential Northerners.

They didn’t have to be northerners by birth but they did need a base in the north. George Osborne’s Tatton constituency ruled him in; Scouser Sir Terry Leahy was ruled out because Tesco is headquartered in the south.

Then we asked our judges – shrewd observers of life in the north – to vote on their top 50, and to make the case for anyone obviously missing. Votes were combined to produce the rankings overleaf.

The result, perhaps inevitably, is that money holds sway over personality – and that usually means white men in suits. As with Whittaker, few may have heard of Peter Stephenson (19) but the Able UK boss’s plans for a marine energy park on the Humber, if they come off, promise not only £400 million of much needed investment in the area but also a kickstart for the offshore wind industry – one that’s critical if climate change is to be fought.

That’s not to say strands of influence can be separated out so easily. Ken McMeikan (4), also little known, leads Greggs, one of the north’s most successful businesses. But the chief executive of the bakery shops is here as much for his influence on our lunchtime eating habits as on our economy. Businessmen turned philanthropists such as Martin Ainscough (22) also blur the boundaries.

Comparing their influence with that of someone like Jessica Ennis (25) may seem impossible but it’s part of the fun. Few jobs depend on the Sheffield-based world heptathlon champion but who would deny the inspiring, unifying influence of sport – especially if she persuades a younger generation to put down their Xboxes and take to the playing fields? Carol Ann Duffy (9) shows that poets are, as Shelley said, “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” but how does she poll against a more prosaic legislator such as Lib Dem minister, Hazel Grove MP and spending cuts champion Andrew Stunell (47)?

So we’re comparing apples with oranges. We’re also missing other parts of the orchard. There are no policemen here, for instance – notably no counter-terrorism chiefs – and no trade unionists. In its traditional heartlands, Labour’s only inclusion is its leader Ed Miliband (46), MP for Doncaster North.

More worryingly, there are only eight women in the 50 Most Influential Northerners and five non-white faces. Are we perpetuating the diversity problem by not looking hard enough – or telling it like it unfortunately is? And what about the mavericks and community champions – those influential figures working below the media plumbline who are far more significant in their neighbourhoods than any chief executive?

We think our 50 Most Influential Northerners has revealed much about the people who affect our lives but it’s thrown up as many questions as answers. We hope they’re worth debating – and that you’ll let us know who you think we’ve missed out. Contact us via the details below and we will publish your nominations.

Have your say

Let us know what you think about the 50 Most Influential Northerners and who we might have missed out by emailing us here or, for publication, here. Or you can leave comments at the end of this article

Judging panel

Mohammed Ali OBE is the founder and chief executive of QED-UK, a high profile minority ethnic community economic development agency set up in Bradford in 1990. He is a member of the Department for Work and Pension’s ethnic minority employment advisory group and many other boards and was a finalist in the personality of the year, lifetime achievement and principal of the year categories of the UK Charity Awards.

Broadcaster Allan Beswick presents the Beswick at Breakfast show on BBC Radio Manchester as well as other radio and TV programmes. Before he moved into radio he held a variety of jobs including apprentice electrician, soldier, psychiatric nurse, bus driver, driving instructor and Citizens Advice Bureau manager. He is a board member of the Big Life group, which publishes The Big Issue in the North.

Fay Selvan is chief executive of the Big Life group, which publishes The Big Issue in the North. She founded Diverse Resources in Manchester in 1991 as a healthcare provider, merging it with The Big Issue in the North in 2002 to create the Big Life group of social businesses and charities. Chairs Trafford Healthcare Trust.

Michael Taylor is the editor of North West Business Insider and editorial director of Insider Media, the Manchester-based publishing and events company. The magazine is the holder of six regional and national awards, while Taylor holds two for his journalism. He also hosts business awards and dinners and is a frequent commentator on business issues on radio and television.

Illustration: Laura Turner. Research: William Hall. Profiles: William Hall, Jamie Kenny, Richard Smirke


1 John Whittaker
Chairman, Peel Group

John Whittaker, 68, an Isle of Man tax exile, is one of the wealthiest but most reclusive figures in the north. His name does not appear in Who’s Who and he took his company Peel off the Stock Exchange so he could run the company away from investors and the media’s prying eyes.

Yet he has had a bigger influence in the north over the last decade than any other figure. Over 30 million customers a year shop at his Trafford Centre and nearly 5 million pass through Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Peel controls 9 million sq ft of investment property, and Peel Ports, which includes the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool, is the UK’s second biggest port operator, handling 65 million tonnes of cargo a year.

Peel has invested £500 million in making Salford’s MediaCity the BBC’s new northern home and the biggest media hub outside London, and is working on Liverpool and Wirral Waters, a £10 billion investment plan to transform both sides of the Mersey.
Whittaker, born in Bury and educated at Catholic public school Ampleforth, is one of the few beneficiaries of the collapse of Lancashire’s cotton industry. It began with his 1973 acquisition of Peel Mills, the first of several troubled textile mills, which he bought to redevelop their valuable property assets.

Since then he has doggedly pursued property-related acquisitions, of which the two most important were the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool. He fought a long battle to get planning permission for the Trafford Centre shopping centre in the face of opposition from local authorities fearful about what it might do to their town centres.

Peel employs 5,000 staff and controls everything from ports and airports – including Robin Hood and Durham Tees Valley on the other side of the Pennines – to wind-farms and waste disposal sites. But his biggest asset is his dominant stake in the
35 mile ship canal corridor linking Manchester and Liverpool. Calling the corridor the Ocean Gateway, Whittaker claims Peel could put in over £50 billion in investment in the next 30 years. It is already funding over 50 projects in the area, including MediaCity. Even if many of the hyped schemes don’t come off, no other investor has such a big influence on the future of the North West’s economy.

Fans portray Whittaker as a shrewd long-term investor with an enviable track record in job creation and regeneration. Critics claim his success is largely down to juggling Peel’s £5 billion property portfolio in a benign low interest-rate environment. The jury is out on whether he has built a sustainable empire that can survive his eventual retirement – his son is a director – and a hostile business environment. Even someone as influential as Whittaker has been forced to concede that his company can’t start building Wirral Waters until the recession is over.

2 Peter Marks
Chief executive,
Co-operative Group

Bradford-born Peter Marks has kickstarted the 147-year-old Co-operative Group, the sprawling Manchester-based £15 billion a year conglomerate owned by its 5.5 million members, whose interests stretch from retailing and farming to funeral care, finance and travel. The Co-op, which employs as many as 120,000 staff, has been revitalised by Marks, a Co-op veteran who took over three years ago. He pushed through the £1.6 billion acquisition of the Somerfield convenience store chain, the merger of the Co-operative Bank with Britannia Building Society, and the complete re-branding of the group’s 5,000-plus stores. The Co-op logo is increasingly ubiquitous on the high street. Also won top marks from Manchester’s city fathers by agreeing to a new £100 million Co-op HQ next to the CIS Tower.

3 William Hague
Foreign secretary

The Doncaster-born politician has a brief that takes him far outside his Richmond constituency and the north of England in general. But if we really do live in UK plc, then the former leader of the opposition has clearly staked a claim as custodian of corporate social responsibility. “There will be no downgrading of human rights under this government,” he said in a speech in August. “It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests.” How the conscience of a nation can be reconciled with the agenda of a cost cutting government remains to be seen.

4 Ken McMeikan
Chief executive, Greggs

Under the guidance of man snack magnate Ken McMeikan, Newcastle-based high street bakers Greggs has grown to 1,400 outlets with more on the way, made recession busting profits and looks set to become an iconic retail business of the age of austerity. See those queues at lunchtime. But it’s about more than just sausage rolls. The Greggs Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, has raised over £20 million for causes across the north and the company provides free breakfasts for over 6,000 primary school children in deprived areas. Former Tesco executive McMeikan has also been made a Prince of Wales ambassador to the North East in recognition of his commitment to local communities.

5 Paul Walker
Former chief executive, Sage Group

“It’s on Sage” is a familiar reminder to office workers all over the world looking for the figures, the accounting software being as much a part of the working day to many as Microsoft Office. It was invented in Newcastle. Walker joined Sage in 1984, three years after it was set up, and has turned it into a worldwide leader in business software, with 6.2 million customers, 13,100 staff and revenues of £1.4 billion a year. If the north-south divide is ever to be reversed, we need more companies like these, especially in the North East. Walker has just stepped down but his place here is confirmed by the company’s benefit for the region – witness its £6 million backing for the Norman Foster-designed Sage Gateshead arts centre.

6 Ross Warburton
Director, Warburtons

Warburton’s is the country’s second biggest brand, behind only Coca-Cola, according to market researchers Nielsen, and its bread is scientifically proven to be the best wrapping for a chip butty. The extraordinary rise of the 134-year-old Bolton bakery was led by Ross Warburton, the Oxford-educated former City fund manager who is now also president of the powerful Food and Drink Federation. President since 1999 of the Bolton Lads and Girls Club, he has helped it become the largest youth club outside London and is also a director of OnSide, a charity developing similar youth clubs across the North West.

7 Baroness Sayeeda Warsi
Minister without portfolio

While her campaign to re-establish the Tories as a force in northern cities met with limited success at the last election, Dewsbury-born Baroness Warsi’s own rise continues. She is now the youngest member of the House of Lords, the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet and, as chair of the Conservative Party, is the public face of the dominant force in the coalition government. She is also not scared of controversy – tangling with Nick Griffin on Question Time, defending women’s right to wear a burqa, announcing that the government “does God” and most recently claiming that the Conservatives were deprived of at least three MPs by electoral fraud. Her prominence may have owed something to her party’s desire to modernise and adopt a Muslim face. But the Baroness herself has emerged as one of modern conservatism’s feistiest frontline advocates.

8 Sir Ian Wrigglesworth
Deputy chair, Regional Growth Fund

One of the North East’s most successful businessmen – he is also chair of Port of Tyne – Lib Dem peer Wrigglesworth is deputy chairman of the new
£1 billion Regional Growth Fund, the government’s sop to English regions about to suffer horribly from public sector cuts. Once a lowly PR man at the National Girobank, he became Labour MP for Thornaby, switching to the breakaway Social Democratic Party and continuing as MP for Stockton South until 1987. Since then the effective networker has championed business and the arts in the North East but the north needs to prise his fingers from the purse strings to get its fair share of economic development money. But he has warned that it will be a “miracle” if the government reverses the growing north-south divide.

9 Carol Ann Duffy
Poet Laureate

Appointed the first ever female Poet Laureate in May 2009, Carol Ann Duffy has done more to help popularise modern verse in the UK than any other poet alive today. Long based in Manchester, where she is professor of contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Glasgow-born writer combines mass appeal with critical acclaim, winning the prestigious TS Eliot Prize in 2005 and being awarded a CBE in 2002. Since being made Poet Laureate, Duffy has used her increased profile to highlight a number of different social causes – most recently penning the poem Vigil in remembrance of lesbian and gay people who have lost their lives to HIV and Aids.

10 Frank Field
Birkenhead MP

Labour MP for Birkenhead since 1979, Frank Field has been a consistent campaigner against poverty and low pay. Director of the Child Poverty Action Group from 1969 to 1979, Field was also one of the first to campaign for a national minimum wage during his helm of the Low Pay Unit. In 1997-1998 he was minister for welfare reform in Tony Blair’s first cabinet, famously asked to think the unthinkable and getting sacked for his trouble, and in 1999 helped set up the Pension Reform Group, which he still chairs. He emerged unscathed from the expenses scandal as one of the 200 lowest-claiming MPs, despite having a constituency over 200 miles from Westminster. Currently leading an independent review on poverty for David Cameron.

11 Nick Clegg
Deputy prime minister

Sheffield may have elected its first deputy prime minister in the form of Nick Clegg, MP for Hallam, but that hasn’t protected the city from early experience of the coalition’s austerity agenda. Local company Forgemasters had an £80 million government loan cancelled in June. Last month the Lib Dem-controlled local authority issued redundancy notices to 8,500 staff. As deputy prime minister, Clegg has stayed firmly on board with the cuts. But it’s in his other role as minister for constitutional reform that he promises to make most difference to the political life of the north, leading the campaign for adoption of the alternative vote along with measures to reduce the number of northern constituencies. There’s some concern in Lib Dem circles that leftish northern voters are returning to Labour. No matter what people vote in 2015, Clegg’s legacy may lie in how they vote.

12 Duke of Westminster
Grosvenor Group

Gerald Grosvenor, the sixth Duke of Westminster and the UK’s third wealthiest man, stepped down in 2007 as chairman of Grosvenor, his family’s £10.2 billion property group, which owns a large chunk of Mayfair as well as Eaton Hall, the family home outside Chester. Although the company operates around the world it has big interests in the north, and masterminded the regeneration of the city centre with its £1 billion Liverpool One shopping centre. The duke, a leading figure in the Territorial Army, supports over 250 charities, donating £2.4 million a year through his Westminster Foundation.

13 Trevor Mann
Senior vice-president, Nissan Europe

A third of UK-manufactured cars already roll off the production line at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland – the country’s largest – and Trevor Mann is behind it. Educated at Durham and Gateshead technical colleges, he joined the company in 1985 on the production line, rising to oversee the Japanese carmaker’s investment in Sunderland and helping banish the British reputation for manufacturing dodgy cars. But his greatest achievement could lie before him and Sunderland’s 4,000 employees. The plant is to make the Leaf, what the company claims is the “world’s first affordable mass-produced zero emission car”. A £420 million government grant for the plant underlines the success expected of Mann.

14 Gary Hoffman
Chief executive, Northern Rock

The famous queues of frightened savers threatening a run on Northern Rock in 2007 not only foreshadowed the economic crisis but led to big job losses in its North East base as the bank, one of Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders, imploded. Now it’s nationalised, Gary Hoffman, a former vice chairman of Barclays, has the task of turning it around. Hoffman, who refused his bonus this year, has cut losses, meaning the cash-strapped government might be able to sell it off. But even more much needed jobs could leave Newcastle for West Yorkshire now Northern Rock has merged its dodgy loans department with Bradford and Bingley.

15 Sir Richard Leese
Leader, Manchester City Council

Not many council leaders could hang on to their job after being cautioned for assaulting their stepdaughter but Labour’s Sir Richard Leese is nothing if not resilient, having also shrugged off losing the congestion charge referendum. Widely credited for leading the city’s ongoing regeneration following the 1996 IRA bomb, Leese continues to command strong support among his peers, as the 10 Greater Manchester councils take up powers to act as a city-region. Keeping them onside is his immediate challenge but, with no obvious successor, it will also be interesting to see how he renegotiates Manchester’s relationship with the coalition government – he cut his political teeth in opposing Thatcher’s assault on local government in the 1980s.

16 Sir John Zochonis

Sir John, one of the North West’s most generous philanthropists, made his fortune running Manchester’s PZ Cussons, a West African trading company set up in the 1870s as Paterson Zochonis by his great uncle. Sir John chaired PZ for 23 years, overseeing its transformation into a multinational consumer goods company. Sir John retired in 1993 but quietly is one of the north’s most generous benefactors, backing numerous good causes through the Zochonis Charitable Trust, which he set up in 1977 and chaired for a long period. In 2008-09 the charity had funds of £76 million and donated more than £2.2 million to its causes.

17 Simon Moran
Founder, SJM Concerts

Founder and managing director of SJM Concerts, the UK’s largest independent gig promoter, which is responsible for staging over 1,500 shows a year, including recent national tours by JLS, Coldplay, Oasis and Take That, as well as co-promoting the annual V Festival. One of the few major music companies outside the capital, Manchester-based SJM also contains a growing artist management division, with its MD representing The Coral and Paul Heaton, as well as co-managing The Script. Moran is also a major shareholder in leading UK venue operator Academy Music Group and sits on its board. He also owns Warrington Wolves rugby club.

18 Tom Bloxham
Founder, Urban Splash

Bloxham, founder of property developers Urban Splash, led the way in the 1990s in regenerating the north’s inner cities by redeveloping obsolete industrial buildings in Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford, Sheffield and Leeds into stylish apartment blocks, offices and shops. Born in Hampshire, he studied politics and history at Manchester University and sold records and posters from market stalls before founding Urban Splash in 1992, bringing a touch of rock and roll to the property industry. But as public money for regeneration has dried up, the company has found its urban terrain to be much tougher going. Apart from property, Bloxham chairs the Manchester International Arts Festival and is chancellor of Manchester University.

19 Peter Stephenson
Chairman, Able UK

Where there’s muck, there’s brass, could be Peter Stephenson’s business motto. The Teesside entrepreneur specialises in businesses that no one else wants to touch, such as reclaiming contaminated land, disposing of landfill and fighting a long running battle with local authorities to be allowed to scrap four highly contaminated US warships. Stephenson, Ernst & Young North and Midlands Entrepreneur of the Year 2010, is expanding rapidly into port development and renewable energy, not just on Teesside but increasingly on the Humber where he plans to develop a £400 million Marine Energy Park.

20 Phil Redmond
TV producer

Phil Redmond, who started out writing jokes for Les Dawson, has ensured that Liverpool punches well above its weight in an increasingly fragmented media world. Best known as a serious TV producer and screenwriter who created three of Britain’s longest running TV soaps – Grange Hill (30 years), Brookside (21 years), and Hollyoaks (11 years) – he is also a successful businessman, having built Mersey Television into Britain’s largest independent drama production house, employing over 500 people by the time he sold it in 2005. Joining Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture board in 2006 as deputy chairman and creative director, he is credited with averting a looming artistic disaster and instead making the city’s 2008 reign one of the most successful ever. A popular and ubiquitous champion of Liverpool, he seems as much at ease with a Conservative prime minister as with his Labour predecessors, which has led to speculation that he might throw his hat in the ring to become Liverpool’s first elected mayor. “Big Society has been around in Liverpool for many years and the people of Liverpool are the definition of civil society,” he says.

21 Amir Khan

Not an immediately obvious choice as highest ranking sports person in our top 50, Amir Khan’s multiple charity roles and his significant investment in the local community make the Bolton fighter a natural choice as the region’s number one. As well as working as ambassador for the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Khan has donated over £1 million of his own money into funding the Gloves community centre and boxing gym in Bolton. Due to fight Marcos Maidana later this year in Las Vegas, the world light welterweight champion has been hailed as one of Britain’s most influential Muslims.

22 Martin Ainscough
Property developer

Wigan-based Martin Ainscough built up and sold the largest independent crane hire company in the UK at the top of the housing boom for £255 million. Now the question is whether his latest venture, Ainscough Strategic Land, can repeat that success, depending as it does on developing property in co-operation with cash-strapped local authorities and retail developers facing an uncertain market. He will be watching closely for the green shoots of recovery, if only so he can build something on them. Business aside, Ainscough and wife operate their own charitable trust and he serves as vice-president of the Prince’s Trust’s North West leadership council.

23 Baroness Margaret Eaton
Chair, Local Government Association

Eaton has to lobby for councils facing savage spending cuts but it’s her side that insists they have to be made –
a tricky situation for the former Bradford City Council leader. She became head of the Local Government Assocation just as the Icelandic banking crisis threatened its members with millions in losses, and with the coalition government promising a greater role for local authorities but no more money, could well come into conflict with her Conservative colleagues in Westminster. But David Cameron will need her on side, as their party still has little control over local government in the north. Photo: Duncan Nicol Robertson

24 Rio Ferdinand

Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard may be bigger names but Rio Ferdinand’s commitment to charitable causes and grassroots organisations on a local, national and international level means the Peckham-born footballer’s influence extends way beyond the back or indeed front pages. Recently in the news protesting over proposed police spending cuts, Ferdinand has long been an outspoken campaigner against racism in football while his Live The Dream Foundation provides job opportunities to under-privileged kids. Recent forays into the movie business with the 2009 film Dead Man Running, which he executive produced, have added further strings to the 31-year-old’s multi-faceted bow. Photo: Gordon Flood

25 Jessica Ennis

World heptathlon champion and captain of Team GB, Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis is the poster girl of British athletics. Having first won gold at the Berlin 2009 World Championships, Ennis followed her breakthrough success by retaining her number one status at this summer’s European Championships in Barcelona. Voted third in last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, Ennis’s profile is set to skyrocket in the run-up to London 2012 when she is strongly expected to once again win gold. Already a role model to millions, the 24-year-old’s drive and commitment has made her arguably the world’s leading female athlete.

26 George Osborne
Chancellor and Tatton MP

As MP for Tatton in Cheshire, George Osborne represents the wealthiest constituency in the north and one likely to remain so whatever effect the Chancellor’s policies have on the region as a whole. But areas like the North West and Tyneside, which depend heavily on public sector employment, will be more nervous about his policy of aggressive deficit cutting and public sector retrenchment. Will the private sector step in, as promised, and fill the gap? Anxious Mancunians and Geordies will be finding out sooner rather than later. So will David Cameron and equally anxious colleagues in government. “We’ve created a platform for economic stability – dealt with this huge budget deficit problem with a measured plan that takes place over four years,” he insisted last week.

27 Peter Kay

For many in the south the epitome of working class northern man, Bolton-born comic Peter Kay has transcended his stand-up roots to have an immeasurable impact on British culture. Without him similarly down-to-earth northern comics such as The One Show’s Jason Manford and Liverpool’s John Bishop would not be where they are today. Kay’s nationwide success as an old-school family entertainer helped pave the way for the return of hit variety shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Family Fortunes. Proof of his continued popularity as a comedian and TV personality, as illustrated by an instantly sold out 20 night run to over 220,000 people at Manchester’s MEN Arena on his 2010 UK tour.

28 John Sentamu
Archbishop of York

Theologically conservative, socially committed and as famously frank as the people of his adopted county, Archbishop John Sentamu of York has not been scared to use his position as second in the Anglican hierarchy to lead from the front. Famous for cutting up his dog collar on live television in protest at Robert Mugabe and describing short sellers in the financial markets as “clearly bank robbers”, he is the only senior cleric in England to combine his ecclesiastical duties with honorary membership of the Parachute Regiment. Whatever else happens across the region over the next year, expect eruptions from somewhere in the vicinity of the River Ouse.

29 Edwin Booth
Chairman, EH Booth & Co

The north’s answer to Waitrose. Booth is the fifth generation to head the family supermarket chain, which operates 26 stores from Carlisle to Chester and has won dozens of awards for the quality of its food and customer service. In a retailing world dominated by the likes of Tesco and Asda, Edwin Booth has proved that size does not have to be the sole key to success on the fiercely competitive high street. Booth’s chairmanship of Business in the Community’s North West advisory board is a reminder that profit is not the only thing that drives this 160-year-old business.

30 Fred Done

Fred and younger brother Peter have turned their father’s small Salford bookmaker into Betfred, the UK’s fourth biggest bookmaker, with 800 offices taking bets on everything from horseracing to football, cricket and golf. “There’s only one person you have to please and that is the customer,” says Done. As a long-time Manchester United supporter, could he be up for the biggest gamble of his life – rescuing United from the Glazers?

31 Sir Howard Bernstein
Chief executive, Manchester City Council

Joining Manchester City Council as a junior clerk, Sir Howard Bernstein became chief executive in 1998. A consummate networker and pioneer in the art of public-private sector partnership, he took a leading role in the rebuilding of the city centre after the IRA bomb attack in 1996 and the establishment of the Metrolink light rail system, amongst many others: if it’s big, prestigious and in Manchester, it’s got Bernstein’s fingerprints all over it. Already under attack from the government as a fat cat public sector executive – he retorted that his salary was none of the government’s business – Bernstein’s glory days as Britain’s only public administration megastar may be over. But the city itself is his memorial.

32 Sir Alex Ferguson
Manager, Manchester United

The most successful manager in British football history, Sir Alex may have plenty of detractors but his authority over the national game goes without question. Former PM Tony Blair recently revealed that it was the Man Utd manager whom he turned to for advice when quarrelling with Gordon Brown, while the BBC recently implemented new post-match interview rules specifically to address Ferguson’s longstanding quarrel with the broadcaster, something which he has so far refused to acknowledge. Stubborn? Yes. One of the world’s leading names in football? Undoubtedly. Does the impending sale of Wayne Rooney mark the beginning of the end? We shall see. Photo: FvS

33 Alastair Balls
Chair, Centre for Life

The Centre for Life is a charitable partnership between Newcastle University and NHS hospitals in the area that has cemented the city’s international reputation for achievement in life sciences. In 2005, scientists based at Life were the first group in the world to successfully clone a human embryo. Balls was formerly chief executive of the centre, whose education facility LifeLab is the largest provider of formal taught science workshops in Europe, and is now its chair. The former chief executive of the Tyne & Wear Development Corporation is now also chair of the Alzheimer’s Society, one of the country’s leading charities.

34 Mumtaz Khan
Founder, Mumtaz Food Industries

It started with samosas sold from a small Bradford takeaway. That was in 1979. Mumtaz Khan’s Kashmiri catering empire now includes David Cameron’s favourite Indian restaurant and a multimillion pound food brand sold in major supermarket chains nationwide that takes Britain’s love affair with Asian cuisine into hitherto unexplored areas, including salad dressing and baby food. The Khan catering empire is based in Bradford, where 250 people are employed in a purpose built factory. Khan is also a prominent supporter of local charities, including Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

35 James Jones
Bishop of Liverpool

James Jones, the Anglican bishop of Liverpool since 1998, does not cut as charismatic figure as his predecessor, the wildly successful postwar batsman-turned-bishop David Sheppard. But over the last decade he has championed the regeneration of some of the most deprived parts of Liverpool as well as debating the need for regional government. He lectures widely, regularly contributes the Today programme’s Thought for the Day and has written a number of books including Jesus and the Earth, which looks at the relationship between Christianity and the environment.

36 Dorothy Thompson
Chief executive, Drax Group

No power list would be complete without the woman responsible for up to 7 per cent of the UK’s entire electricity output. As chief executive of the Drax power plant in Yorkshire, Dorothy Thompson not only keeps houses heated and wheels going round, she’s also a frequent target for environmental campaigners angry with the plant’s colossal hunger for coal. As changes in legislation force moves towards cleaner power generation, her next big task will be finding ways to keep the lights on without overheating the planet. A £100 million programme of investment in new turbines and cleaner sources of energy including biomass is already underway. Energy security is a crucial consideration for the UK. Some say power stations are potential targets for cyber-terrorists.

37 John Timpson
Chief executive, Timpson

Chief executive of the family-owned Timpson chain of key-cutting and shoe repair shops, John Timpson CBE presides over a business empire that spans over 650 outlets in the UK and Ireland with a reported annual turnover in excess of £100 million. Regularly featured in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For list, the Wythenshawe-based company offers generous employee benefits, including paid leave on staff birthdays and free use of the company holiday homes. The nationwide chain also funds training centres in Wandsworth and Liverpool prisons and, although a locksmith, is one of few companies committed to employing ex-offenders. Timpson’s son Edward is Tory MP for Crewe and Nantwich.

38 Linda Pollard
Deputy chair, Yorkshire Forward

The regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, where she takes the lead on skills and tourism, is being wound down but Linda Pollard’s experience is sure to continue to be in demand. A serial entrepreneur, she started her first business aged 23 and sold the last one 10 years ago, since when she has devoted much of her time to the public sector. An OBE, she is chair of Leeds NHS Primary Care Trust, pro-chancellor and chair elect of the University of Leeds, and regional chair for the blue-blooded Coutts Bank.

39 Brian Cox

The David Beckham of particle physics, Oldham-born Brian Cox has overtaken Stephen Hawking to become Britain’s most well known scientist. His recent BBC TV series, Wonders of the Solar System, drew audiences of 5 million-plus and he has over 120,000 Twitter followers. As the Sun’s science correspondent he has opened up scientific discussion to the tabloid masses, albeit in simplified language. Resident at Manchester University, where the 42-year-old holds a chair in particle physics, the former keyboard player with D:Ream was made an OBE this year for promoting science.

40 David Colin-Thome
National Clinical Director for Primary Care

As the government prepares to outsource healthcare commissioning to GPs, the role of David Colin-Thome, the former Runcorn GP who has been the government’s National Clinical Director for Primary Care since 2001, has never been more important. The new measures will make GPs responsible for many of the management tasks previously carried out by bureaucrats in addition to their frontline duties. It’s part of Dr Colin-Thome’s job to ensure that GPs understand exactly what is involved in a controversial transition that will make GPs even more essential to the overall success of the NHS than they are today. Will the GPs go along with it?

41 Gee Walker
Anti-racism campaigner

Mother of Anthony Walker, who was brutally murdered in a racist attack near his home in Liverpool in 2005, Gee Walker has turned tragedy into hope and support for thousands of other families affected by hate crime. Having founded the Anthony Walker Foundation in her son’s honour, which promotes racial harmony through sport, music and education, Walker’s tireless campaigning has resulted in the introduction of school programmes throughout the region that tackle racist beliefs and violence. The AWF also provides outreach support to families that have experienced discrimination, while its Young Ambassadors initiative provides opportunities for 16 to 25 year-olds.

42 Brendan Foster
Founder, Great North Run

As an Olympic medallist and world record holder, Durham-born Brendan Foster helped put British middle distance running on the world map in the 1970s. After retiring in 1980, he went on to found the Great North Run, the world’s biggest half marathon, Europe’s largest mass participation event, and a race that attracts some of the world’s greatest athletes to the North East. “The big task for us is to make sure that the Great North Run is still here in 100 years’ time,” he says. “We’re custodians for the biggest, most successful event in the North East and we can’t be complacent.” Founded sports marketing agency Nova International, which now runs six more Great Runs.

43 Jimmy McGovern
TV writer/producer

McGovern’s profile has dipped slightly from his 1980s and 1990s peak when he created Brookside and Cracker, but the Liverpool-born scriptwriter is still one of the UK’s foremost TV writers-producers. BBC1’s Manchester-set drama The Street won universal praise and two consecutive BAFTA Awards when it aired over three series from 2006 to 2009. Good things are also expected of McGovern’s next series, Accused, which stars Christopher Eccleston and is due to be broadcast by the Beeb next year. In 2009 McGovern partnered with Sita Williams and Roxy Spencer to found Manchester-based independent television and film company RSJ Films, demonstrating his continued commitment to the region’s media industry.

44 Alan Bennett

For many people across the world, the north of England is Bennettland. And the same goes for many people who live here. Most of the Leeds-born playwright, screenwriter and author’s work has taken him elsewhere. But his sour-sweet portraits of despairing men, determined women and defeated families under endless drizzle has fixed an unforgettable picture of the region in the minds of millions. It’s not a picture that would give the average tourism executive much to work with. And the author himself doesn’t care much for publicity. “I’d like the world to think I’m a nice man,” he says. “But I’m not.” Many would disagree with that assessment. But it’s characteristic of an author who doesn’t speak out every time he has something to say, but waits until he has something to add, often something uncomfortable for his listener to hear. That’s very northern.

45 Janet Hemingway
Director, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Janet Hemingway may not be a household name in the north, where she runs the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), which has over 500 students from 60 countries. But the professor of insect molecular biology is well known internationally as one of the leading researchers in the long running campaign to eradicate malaria, which kills nearly 1 million people a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded in 1898, LSTM was the first institution in the world dedicated to tropical disease and under Hemingway’s nine years of leadership has attracted £169 million of research funding from high profile philanthropists such as Bill Gates to discover new drugs to combat debilitating and disabling diseases in the world’s poorest countries. Hemingway’s stature in the world scientific community was recognised by her recent election to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest scientific honours in the United States.

46 Ed Miliband
Leader of the Opposition

Will some future 50 Most Influential Northerners list be able to claim a prime minister in the form of the MP for Doncaster North? Many don’t think so, pointing to his youth and supposed leftish leanings. But “Red Ed” or not, this is a man capable of organising a successful leadership campaign that managed to overtake and dispose of a favoured candidate. And the fact that this candidate was his elder brother certainly shows that he has an appetite for power. The younger Miliband can also point to a brief career on the front benches, as minister with responsibility for fighting climate change. The next five years will see whether he can change the political climate.

47 Andrew Stunell
Communities minister

As the party’s chief whip at the time, the Hazel Grove MP was at the centre of the Lib Dems’ negotiations with David Cameron to form the coalition. Now, as communities minister, he’s potentially at the centre of the government’s Big Society plans for a larger civic society and smaller state. Insisted to The Big Issue in the North recently that spending cuts would not hit the poorest hardest – words that many view with scepticism.

48 Sir Mark Elder
Music director, the Hallé

As conductor and music director of Manchester’s Hallé orchestra since 2000, Northumbrian Sir Mark Elder is the latest flag bearer for the north’s proud history as a home for classical music. Indeed, his tenure is believed to have restored the status of an orchestra whose existence was once considered to be under threat. And visitors to the Hallé’s Bridgewater Hall home can also look forward to some committed conducting: in his own words, his conducting is “perspirational” as well as inspirational. A recent contract extension will see Elder perspiring in place until 2015.
Photo: Simon Dodd

49 Nigel Haworth

Head chef and co-proprietor of the Michelin-starred Northcote Manor in the Ribble Valley, Nigel Haworth is not just one of the region’s most celebrated chefs but also a fierce champion of local produce and preserving traditional Lancashire recipes. Trading under the name Ribble Valley Inns, Haworth and his long term business partner Craig Bancroft also operate a number of revered, locally sourced gastropubs on both sides of the Pennines. Haworth is also actively involved in Chefs Sans Frontieres, an international charitable organisation that provides opportunities for under-privileged youths to enter the food industry.

50 Guy Garvey

Still a regular sighting in some of Manchester’s less salubrious bars, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey has stayed true to the city that made him following his band’s 2008 Mercury Music Prize victory. Currently working on Elbow’s eagerly anticipated fifth album, due for release early next year, the Bury-born singer has remained a loyal advocate of Greater Manchester’s creative scene, offering support and guidance to new bands as well as old friends such as I Am Kloot, who Garvey recently co-produced and helped get a Mercury nod for their Sky At Night album. His excellent BBC 6 Music show, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour, similarly helps give valuable exposure to emerging talent, as does his Skinny Dog Records indie label. A recent radio documentary entitled Guy Garvey’s Rainy City (also broadcast on BBC 6 Music) shed light on the city’s cultural and political history.

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