O2 runs off with Orange award

Awards ceremonies often feature irony but the National Business Awards raised it to an art form by handing the top Business Leader of the Year award to O2, the rival of lead sponsor Orange

This year's National Business Awards, held on Tuesday night, once again featured the best of British business, both large and small, with some refreshing newcomers along with the old guard.

Orange, the company which has sponsored the awards since their inception four years ago, could be understandably aggrieved to see rival O2 scoop the event's biggest prize at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

Always much anticipated, this year the final prize of the CSC Business Leader of the Year award went to Peter Erskine, O2's chief executive.

Erskine may have been tempted towards smugness in the face of the polite, rather than raucous applause he received from those sitting at the Orange tables, especially in the light of his company's takeover by Spain's Telefonica, but he kept it under wraps.

"Hola!", said Erskine in his acceptance speech, "or as I should have said to Telefónica when they came in with an £18bn offer for us, Gracías."

Erskine acknowledged the irony of the award coming from Orange but pointed out that O2 had built itself up from a £4bn spin-off from BT to a much larger group.

Other award winners on the night included Lord Kalms of Edgware, the former head of electronics retailer Dixons and now its president, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award from previous recipient, Sir John Harvey Jones. The award is presented to the business personality who "best represents achievement, longevity and is synonymous with the business sector in the UK".

True to form, Lord Kalms promptly accused politicians of stifling business in the UK in regulations and compliance and once again made it clear that he though "business had been a lot better under Margaret Thatcher".

The Best Use of Technology Award went to Landmark Information Group, the property search and land information system.