Who are the UK’s biggest exporters?
In each edition of Business Leader magazine, we profile the top 32 companies in a specific sector or field. For our latest Top 32 list, we profiled the largest exporters of goods and services in the UK along with the leading companies that rely on exports for a large portion of their business. We also took a closer look at the senior figures that lead these businesses.
How have the Top 32 been chosen?
We asked our readership to suggest companies and individuals that deserve to have the spotlight shined on them for their impressive exploits in the export world. Others have been included because of the sheer volume of their exports.
However, if you feel there are others that deserve to be included on this list, then please email email@example.com and they will be included.
This list is in no particular order.
Virtual Internships is an Edtech company exporting services to 11,000+ host company partners in 110 countries and over 561 universities, colleges and government institutions across 61 countries. Founded in 2018, they deliver a comprehensive global work experience program that helps young people pursue their dream careers and bridges the gap between education and the workforce. Virtual Internships make internships accessible to all and prepare young people for future work.
Streetbees is a global intelligence platform based in London. Its chat-style app allows more than 4.5 million users across 189 countries to share moments from their daily lives, and through applying advanced natural language processing technology to the results, Streetbees uncovers not just what its app users do, but also why they do it, and what drives them – and predicts what they may do next. The AI platform then provides these rich insights to high-profile clients like Sony Pictures, Carlsberg and cosnova.
AstraZeneca is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines. Headquartered in Cambridge and founded in 2009, the company experienced incredible growth during the pandemic due to its role in developing the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
The pharmaceutical giant operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide.
GSK (formerly GlaxoSmithKline) is a science-led global healthcare company. Its self-proclaimed special purpose is to help people do more, feel better, and live longer. According to Forbes, GSK is the world’s sixth-largest pharmaceutical company as of 2019. It has nine manufacturing sites in the UK along with its corporate HQ in Brentford and a global R&D site, whilst around 80% of the pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare products that GSK manufactures are exported.
Manière De Voir
Sports-luxe clothing company Manière De Voir was founded in Manchester in 2014, and the brand was created to fulfil the need of fashion-forward enthusiasts, who desire trend-focused contemporary designs with competitive prices. Although the UK are their biggest market, the USA is its second-largest and they export to over 95 countries around the world, generating £30m in revenue in 2021 without outside capital.
Andrew Charles Wallis King
Mondi is a global leader in packaging and paper, creating innovative packaging and paper solutions that are sustainable by design. Its UK headquarters are in Weybridge, but the company employs around 26,000 people and has around 100 production sites across more than 30 countries, predominantly in Europe, Russia, North America and South Africa, from which its range of paper and packaging products are sent around the world.
TALA was founded with the aim of producing high-performance, eco-friendly activewear. To fulfil its aim, the company partners with sustainable factories in Portugal, Turkey, China, Italy and Vietnam to produce a wide selection of stylish clothing that is manufactured from 92% of upcycled or recycled materials. Founded in 2019, the company has a loyal international audience, particularly in Australia and the US, but recently raised $5.7m (£4.6m) in order to further international expansion.
British American Tobacco
Founded in 1902, British American Tobacco, a multinational manufacturer of cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine products, is the largest tobacco company in the world based on net sales as of 2019. With operations in around 180 countries, they sell more than 200 tobacco brands in over 200 markets and employ more than 50,000 people worldwide. In 2021, the company generated more than $16bn (£12.9bn) in revenue in the US, whilst sales in Europe and North Africa generated $8.2bn (£6.6bn) and revenue for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East stood at $6.3bn (£5.1bn).
Anglo American plc
Duncan Graham Wanblad
Headquartered in London, mining company Anglo American plc is the world’s largest producer of platinum, accounting for around 40% of the world’s platinum output. Ranked as the 274th-largest public company in the world in 2020, Anglo American is also a major producer of diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore and metallurgical and thermal coal. With operations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America, the mining giant currently employs more than 90,000 people.
Elvie is a health and lifestyle brand developing smarter technology for women. Committed to building extraordinary products that improve the health and lives of women everywhere and at all stages of life, Elvie has offices in London and New York and ships its innovative products to around 30 countries worldwide. The Femtech platform raised £70m in Series C funding in 2021, which it plans to use to drive more growth by entering new markets and diversifying its product range.
Chemical manufacturers Johnson Matthey’s vision is for a world that’s cleaner and healthier, today and for future generations. The company traces its origins all the way back to 1817 but has expanded far beyond its London roots. Now operating from 43 manufacturing sites that are dotted around the world in more than 30 countries, the sustainable tech giant opened a catalyst manufacturing plant in North Macedonia, which has since become the largest exporter in the country.
Rio Tinto Group
The second mining company to appear in our list, and the world’s second-largest metals and mining corporation, the Rio Tinto Group was founded in 1873. Operating in 35 countries, Rio Tinto focuses on four product groups: aluminium, copper, minerals and iron. The mining giant sells the latter through 15 ports in China to 80 customers around the world, whilst more than 230 marine vessels transport their products.
BAE Systems plc
Dr. Charles Woodburn
BAE Systems plc provides some of the world’s most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions. As the largest defence contractor in Europe and the biggest manufacturer in Britain, BAE employs 85,800 people in more than 40 countries and exported £3.9bn of goods and services in 2020. Although its largest markets are the UK and US, other major markets for the company include Australia, Canada, India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Oman, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia.
Smith + Nephew
Dr. Deepak Nath
Smith+Nephew is a global medical technology company that designs and manufactures technology that takes the limits off living. Founded in Hull in 1856, today the company supports healthcare professionals to return their patients to health and mobility by providing them with advanced wound management products, arthroscopy products, trauma and clinical therapy products, and orthopaedic reconstruction products, which are sold in over 100 countries around the world.
BT is the world’s oldest telecommunications company, founded in London 175 years ago. In addition to being the largest provider of fixed-line, broadband and mobile services in the UK, it has a large number of subsidiaries and operations in 180 countries around the world. In Q3 2021/22, revenue for BT Global Services, which supplies telecoms services to corporate and government customers worldwide, stood at £871m.
Food processing company Weetabix Ltd. operates with the purpose of helping people live better lives by providing better breakfasts. Headquartered in Burton Latimer, the company is one of the UK’s biggest cereal manufacturers, providing well-known breakfast cereal brands such as Weetabix, Alpen, Crunchy Bran and Ready Brek, which are sold in 80 different countries. Weetabix Ltd. also has factories in Europe, East Africa and North America.
Multinational consumer goods company Reckitt is headquartered in Slough, but it has operational centres in 60 countries. The consumer goods giant also sells its wealth of health, hygiene and nutrition products in nearly 200 different countries around the world. Established more than 200 years ago, Dettol, Disprin, Strepsils and Veet are just a few of the company’s numerous brands which helped its revenues grow to £13.2bn in 2021.
Dr. Maria Chatzou Dunford
Lifebit is pushing forward the frontiers of health and knowledge by democratising access to omics data, enabling all researchers, whether novice or advanced, to run complex analyses and generate meaningful insights fast. The tech platform utilises AI to empower data custodians in 15 countries to make their biomedical data findable and usable for data consumers, whilst their impressive client list includes the Danish National Genome Center, the Hong Kong Genome Project, and a long-term AI-partnership with German pharma giant Boehringer Ingelheim.
Headquartered in London, Unilever is one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse consumer goods businesses, with presence in 190 countries, serving 3.4 billion people every day. Its products include everything from food and condiments to beauty products and cleaning agents, whilst the company is the largest producer of soap in the world. Unilever owns over 400 brands and had a turnover of more than €52bn in 2021.
Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram
Proximie is a technology platform that uses a combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence and augmented reality to allow clinicians to virtually ‘scrub in’ and collaborate with each other from anywhere in the world. Operating in five continents and 35 countries, by allowing clinicians to share their skills in real-time, Proximie reduces variation in care and improves the care quality for patients all around the world. Since the company was founded in late 2016, there have been 10,000+ Proximie aided procedures.
Jaguar Land Rover
Jaguar Land Rover produces luxury and sport utility vehicles from plants in China, Brazil and India, although its manufacturing is centred in the UK. More than 80% of the vehicles built by the automotive giant are sold around the world, whilst in 2020-21, the company sold 439,588 vehicles in 127 countries. The company’s head office is located in Coventry, but Jaguar Land Rovers employs nearly 40,000 people worldwide.
Alcoholic beverage firm Diageo operates in more than 180 countries and has production sites in more than 140 locations around the world. It was the world’s largest distiller until being overtaken by China’s Kweichow Moutai in 2017, although the company remains the world’s largest producer of Scotch whisky. Selling more than 200 brands globally, Diageo employs more than 25,000 in over 135 countries and exports 27 million cases of spirts from Europe to the rest of the world each year.
Many African countries have good mobile network coverage in towns and cities, but not in rural areas. However, AMN offers operators across the continent a simple and compelling solution: expanded coverage, more subscribers, increased revenues, guaranteed positive margins and no capex. Headquartered in Milton Keynes, the company covers 2,000 base stations in 10 countries and holds ambitions to cover almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa.
Founded in 1909, BP is one of the seven oil and gas “supermajors” (the term used to describe the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas companies). With operations in nearly 80 countries and 18,700 service stations around the world, BP produces approximately 3.7 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, whilst its oil equivalent reserves currently stand at 19.945 billion barrels.
Ranked as the 357th-largest public company in the world by some estimates, BP is a major reason why oil is one of the UK’s biggest exports.
One of the UK’s four major clearing banks, HSBC was founded in Birmingham back in 1836. In addition to operating around 1800 sites in the UK, HSBC provides financial services to an international network of around 7,500 offices in over 80 countries and territories in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa. HSBC is currently the second-largest bank in Europe and employs more than 226,059 people worldwide.
Legal & General
Sir Nigel Wilson
Established in 1836, Legal & General is one of the UK’s leading financial services groups and a major global investor. Its products and services include investment management, lifetime mortgages, pensions, annuities, and life assurance. The financial powerhouse is headquartered in London but has operations in the USA along with investment management businesses throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In 2021, international external net flows for their asset management arm stood at £29.5bn, constituting 85% of its total external net flows.
Founded in 2014, TruRating is an innovative, multichannel feedback solution utilised at checkout. It enables businesses to easily track how customers feel against how much they spend, thereby deepening their understanding of the consumer experience. Headquartered in London, the company’s prestigious US partners include Microsoft and Mastercard, and they have several global customers, such as Shopify, Canada Post, Calvin Klein and Five Below. TruRating also has offices in Atlanta and Sydney and is always on the lookout for new talent across the globe.
Formed in 2016 after a merger between London-based Willis Group Holdings plc and US-based Towers Watson & Co, WTW is the third-largest insurance broker in the world. Based in London, the firm offers professional consulting, support, and outsourcing services in the areas of insurance and reinsurance, pensions and retirement planning, health care insurance, technology, and risk management, and has more than 40,000 employees serving clients in more than 140 countries.
Pickfords was established in 1646 and is the UK’s largest removals and storage company. The company has been helping people move home in the UK for generations, but also provides an international removals service to help people from all over the UK and Ireland move to any country across the globe. Pickfords is highly renowned for its global removals export service, as exemplified by the fact they’ve won ‘International Moving Company of the Year’ at the EMMAs for two years in a row.
Kingfisher plc is an international home improvement company with over 1,470 stores in nine countries, supported by a team of 82,000 colleagues. The multinational retail giant, headquartered in London and founded in 1982, also has regional offices across France, Poland and Romania, whilst its brands include B&Q, Castorama, Brico Dépôt and Screwfix. For the most recent financial year, its statutory pre-tax profits were over £1bn and international revenues were dominated by France, where margins were up by 70 basis points and sales grew by over four percent to £4.5bn.
Malvern-based Payara is a born-global software company that was founded after popular application server, Oracle GlassFish was dropped in 2014. 95% of their services are exported to 32 countries and the Payara Platform includes comprehensive commercial support options for development projects, in-production support, and consultancy solutions. Recipients of the Queens Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category in 2021, Payara’s global customer base includes Japanese credit card provider Rakuten Card, Canadian telecoms giant Bell, and German logistics giant Hermes.
The BYP Network helps to connect ambitious future leaders with each other for networking purposes and with corporations for job opportunities. Working with more than 1,000 partners, which includes industry-leading brands like Google, TikTok and eBay, the platform has over 150,000 members located across five continents and 65 countries.