Radio Flyer CEO Robert Pasin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrate Radio Flyer’s 100th anniversary in Chicago.
Peter Wynn Thompson/AP Images
Simply the best small companies in America. Their leaders are committed to building businesses that are the best in the world at what they do, even if that sometimes requires forgoing opportunities to raise more capital and grow much faster. Their goal is to be great but not necessarily big.
Not only do Small Giants aspire to be the best in their respective industries, but they also aim to be world-class in every other aspect of business, including culture. They are such rewarding places to work that they have exceptional job applicants lining up for interviews—more good applicants than they have jobs to fill. Ditto for their customers, who can’t say enough good things about them. Suppliers, for that matter, feel the same way. Beyond business, Small Giants are pillars of their local communities. Collectively, they play a vital role in shaping the texture of life in America.
While certainly not typical of small business, there are more Small Giants than you might imagine. We here at Forbes have undertaken to shine a spotlight on twenty-five of them every year, and we’d appreciate your help in identifying them. Once selected, they enter our Small Giants Hall of Fame, which is maintained by our partner in this project, the Small Giants Community. You can find the nomination form here: The deadline for submitting nominations is December 20, 2019.
There are a few preconditions. To be considered for the list, a company must be at least ten years old in 2020, profitable, and privately owned, with majority control in the hands of inside shareholders. It must also be “human-scale”—that is, a size not so large that the people at the top no longer have direct contact with entry-level employees, and vice versa.
There’s another factor we look for that is a bit more difficult to define. It’s what we call “mojo.” Think of it as the business equivalent of charisma. When a leader has charisma, people want to follow him or her. When a business has mojo, people want to be associated with it. They want to buy from it, sell to it, work for it, and so on. Most of us instinctively recognize this quality when we see it, even if we may have trouble explaining exactly what it is or where it comes from.
In the last four years, we have identified and showcased a hundred companies with lots of mojo that are great by any standard. A few names you may recognize:
Radio Flyer—The iconic 100-year-old wagon company that has now branched out into Tesla Model S electric cars for kids as well as customizable wagons, tricycles, and scooters;
SRC Holdings—The employee-owned remanufacturer of engines and engine components (a spinoff of International Harvester) that introduced open-book management to the world and, with it, grew annual revenues from $16 million in its first year to more that $600 million today;
Vital Farms—The leading producer of “pasture-raised” eggs that customers find so superior they’re willing to pay as much four times the typical price of a carton;
Basecamp—Developer and supplier of the world’s preeminent project management software that has changed the way thousands of companies operate, making them both better organized and more productive;
Amy’s Ice Creams—The legendary Austin, TX, ice cream maker and dispenser that teaches its teenage employees not only how to scoop ice cream but also how to run a business, with courses in leadership, customer service, and finance;
wikiHow—One of the few Silicon Valley companies with a woman CEO, wikiHow has focused from the start on building the world’s largest and best how-to website. That goal has guided every major decision, from turning down venture capital to rejecting acquisition offers from larger companies.
As great as the companies we’ve written about are, we are well aware that we have just scratched the surface. Hundreds more Small Giants can be found throughout North America and in every industry, each setting new standards for excellence in business.
Most of them, moreover, are growing—some quite fast. As a result, they are frequently approached by outside investors. Though, like all companies, they need capital to grow, they can only take on investors who understand that decisions won’t necessarily be made to increase their short-term return on investment.
If this sounds like a company you know, we want to hear from you. Most of the companies on our list are those we’ve learn about from reader nominations. So, again, you can find the nomination form here and the deadline is December 20. Our sincere thanks for any help you can give us.
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