SAP UK & Ireland and Delta Economics have announced findings showing that only 47% of companies that featured in the Fast Track 100 rankings at the start of the decade are still in business today.

The report, which examines the fortunes and performance of the UK’s fastest growing companies since 2001, finds that a business’ ability to be flexible to change has emerged as the key factor for long term success.

Since 1996, the Fast Track 100 published by The Sunday Times, has been the definitive guide to those small and medium sized businesses that have excelled in their first phase of commercial growth. Using this sample of 900 businesses as the basis for further analysis, SAP commissioned Delta Economics to assess Fast Track company performance over the past 10 years.

“We wanted to answer two questions,” said Dr. Rebecca Harding, of Delta Economics, “What happens to really successful early stage businesses in the UK over time, and what makes already successful businesses exceptional?”

As part of the analysis, the research took the top 20 performing businesses for each of the past 10 years of the Fast Track 100 and benchmarked key attributes present in each business year. These were management, innovation, niche, timing and flexibility. Each of these attributes is assigned a score to create a scorecard for each to enable researchers to see which attributes are more prevalent over time.

“The first thing to note is that high growth is not a trend that’s easy to replicate year on year,” continues Dr. Harding. “But from the benchmark analysis, the key ingredients for longer term success in this and wider studies seem to be innovation and the capacity to be flexible and nimble to change as well as sound financials and investment.”

The recent financial crisis and resulting recession has clearly made it difficult for companies in certain sectors. Sectors such as financial services, engineering, distribution and building and property have all struggled to make an impact in the Fast Track post 2007.

John Antunes, Director of SME and Channels, for SAP UK and Ireland, said; “It’s really interesting to plot macro events against UK Fast Track performance over the last decade as you start to see how certain sectors have struggled or thrived in what has been a truly turbulent time. In our experience of working with high growth small and medium companies, many of them hit a wall where they need a more grown-up approach to how they manage their businesses. Often it’s not just about selling more or having an amazing idea that flies, but running your business better, more consistently and transparently.”