23 (-) Richard Harpin £220m (-)

Hard to believe that an emergency plumbing business backed by South Staffordshire Water has turned into a three-continent multinational turning over nearly half-a-billion pounds a year.

But that’s exactly the story of Walsall-based Homeserve, and it’s a story that has made Richard Harpin’s fortune.

Richard Harpin, aged 42, graduated from the University of York and joined Procter & Gamble’s marketing department. He became a brand manager but left after three-and-a-half years to become a management consultant with Deloitte. He stayed a year before setting up his own management consultancy.

It was when he saw how difficult it was to get a reliable plumber in an emergency that he formulated his business model; an insurance product which would ensure a fast and efficient plumbing emergency service.

After several let-downs, he managed to sell the idea to South Staffordshire Water who gave him £100,000 for 52 per cent of the company. Homeserve was born.

Within two years Homeserve was turning in profits, and Richard Harpin successfully marketed the idea to other water companies, giving him total UK coverage. Having access to a large customer base through the water companies, he was able to offer other services. Homeserve now covers electrical wiring, pest control, central heating boilers, and glazing.

As well as its Walsall headquarters Homeserve, which employs more than 1000 engineers, has operations in Weston-super-Mare, Norwich, Nottingham, High Wycombe, Preston and Beverley.

Richard Harpin - a keen pilot - has now taken his business model into international markets with a joint venture in France, based in Lyons, an office in Australia and a fledgling operation in the US called Home Service based in Florida.

In the first half of the 2007 tax year Homeserve made operating profits of £21.6 million - up by a quarter. This was boosted by a surge in insurance policy sales, but dented by a £2.2 million cost for an aborted takeover of Domestic & General.