A woman who left school at 16 without any qualifications and now employs 2,800 workers in a thriving customer contact company has won a business award.

Chey Garland, aged 48, who lives in Kirkby, North Yorkshire, was named Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of The Year and will celebrate at a champagne reception in London today. The mother-of-two left school in Middlesbrough to work as a receptionist and soon became fascinated by the " exhilarating" aspects of business.

At 23 she used £600 of her savings to set up a commercial credit collections agency, which grew rapidly to employ 60 staff.

She won a contract to handle overflow customer service calls which led to the formation of Garlands Call Centres. The company moved into purpose-built premises in Hartlepool and has expanded in recent years to become the second largest private employer in the Tees Valley.

Two Midland women also made it to the finals. Former nurse Elizabeth Wagstaff who launched her own business Robinia Care, and Sarah Tremellan, founder and chief executive of Leamington Spa-based lingerie company Bravissimo.

Five finalists were chosen from the 50-80 nominations received for the awards each year. The women were judged on their dynamism, motivation and enterprise.