Business Person of the Year, sponsored by Leeds Day solicitors

Business Person of the Year is always a keenly contested category of the awards. This year s finalists are from a diverse range of businesses – Stephen Birch of Bierce Technical Services Limited, in Huntingdon, Maxine Lester, head of her eponymous residen

Business Person of the Year is always a keenly contested category of the awards. This year's finalists are from a diverse range of businesses - Stephen Birch of Bierce Technical Services Limited, in Huntingdon, Maxine Lester, head of her eponymous residential lettings agency in St Ives, and newcomers Deborah Armiger and Rachel Warwick, who jointly founded Nutty Tarts in Eynesbury.

Stephen's business, a spin-off from a property consultancy that he rescued from administration, specialises in energy-efficiency projects for commercial clients in the domestic housing sector. In just 18 months, as well as investing heavily, he has doubled the number of staff, increased income by 25 per cent and added 50 per cent to his client base. It has also expanded into new markets and recently won a new contract worth more than £1million.

Maxine Lester burst onto the property market in 2005 and into the Awards the following year, when Maxine Lester Residential Lettings was judged Huntingdonshire's best New Business. Last year, after substantial growth, it carried off the Business Development prize, so Maxine Lester is hoping to make 2008 hat-trick year.

Her company already has 10 per cent of the lettings market, but her target of 25 per cent could be made more difficult by estate agents moving into lettings in a slow house-sales market. She believes her company has more to offer than others, providing better information to tenants and client landlords.


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The company is also a strong supporter of charities, including the Papworth Trust, which works to help people with physical and learning disabilities.

It is not many years since a business identified as Nutty Tarts would have been trading under a red light, rather than a spotlight. But the Eynesbury firm is more cookie than nookie, having started as a school fund-raising venture four years ago.

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Now the two founding mums, Deborah Armiger and Rachel Warwick, plans to double the modest turnover of their eco-friendly biscuit-baking company in the next year, expand their retail operation, develop new products and employ additional staff.

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