Between 2003 and 2007, Mercom's sales jumped an explosive 3,257 percent, from $700,000 in revenues in 2003 (it operated at a loss that year) to $23.5 million last year.
'Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals'
VisionIT, an IT staffing and service firm in Detroit, Michigan, also "prepared" its way to success. "It would be hard to overestimate the amount of planning and structure we put into the organization to prepare for the growth we recently experienced," said CEO and founder David Segura. "Had we been frightened by the declining economy and prepared for a loss, we probably would have experienced a loss. Instead, we invested heavily in technology and in the culture and management of the company. Others cut back due to the economy, but that's where we broke through."
VisionIT acts as a type of IT general contractor, gathering suppliers together for major companies and government entities. Mr. Segura credits many of the concepts in the book, Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, for helping him build a principle-based internal structure and the belief in what the authors called "big, hairy, audacious goals".
"We believe we will be a global company one day with 10,000 international IT members," said Mr. Segura. "Meanwhile, we're having a blast. This is as much fun now as it was the first day we set up our cubicles in our first small office."
Part of the reason for that, of course, is that Vision IT revenues soared from about $6 million in 2003 to $107 million in 2007. The company ranks 11th on the Top 100 list.
Beating The Trend Is A Gas
Perhaps the most surprising of the companies making the top ten is Pro Auto Dealers in El Paso, Texas. While many auto dealers nationwide are struggling due to the onslaught of higher gas prices, the Texas company, which specializes in used vehicles, has rocketed from $1.2 million in revenues in 2003 to nearly $23 million last year.
"The gas prices are actually helping us," said company founder and CEO Jorge Cuevas. "A lot of customers can't buy a new car because of the higher gas prices, so they are coming to us for less expensive vehicles. Right now, what is hurting everyone else is helping us." The company ranks ninth on the Top 100 list.
Mr. Cuevas said that while he currently does little business in "green" cars, he believes that's where the industry is headed. "Right now we're doing alright, but if gas prices keep going up, everyone will be looking for more fuel-efficiency, and we are all going to have to change."
Specializing In Multicultural Markets
The fastest-growing Hispanic-owned company in California also benefited from the bearish economy. "In hard times, advertisers tend to go with something that shows hard results," said Jose Villa, the CEO of Sensis, a Los Angeles-based online marketing, Web development, and advertising firm. "Companies are moving away from advertising in the print media that doesn't allow for a surety of results to online marketing where exact results are at their fingertips. We can tell exactly how many people saw our ads and how the traffic flows through each Web site."
Like most of the other 100 Fastest-Growing companies, Sensis prepared for success. "We recognized early that the Hispanic online market was going to be a viable, important market, when others didn't," said Mr. Villa. "In many areas, minorities are majorities now. We specialize in reaching multicultural, niche markets in a cost-effective way."
The U.S. Army and the California Lottery Commission are major clients of Sensis. "We do well with the younger demographic because they are more comfortable on the Internet," said Mr. Villa. "Our biggest challenge, and the biggest dollars, are in branding the products. We still have to prove ourselves in the branding issue."
Sensis grew from about $240,000 in revenue to nearly $3.4 million during the past five years. It ranks 13th on the Top 100 list.
Attitude, Innovation, And Preparation
The phenomenal growth of the top companies on the list belies the idea that the poor economy is making it impossible for businesses to thrive. The leadership of these companies has found ways to use conditions to their benefit. Yet, attitude is only part of it. Effective innovation, savvy preparations for success, and a willingness to invest in their companies, while others are contracting and retreating, are also critical common elements. "It isn't always easy and it takes some courage sometimes," said Mr. Segura, "but believing in your vision of the future and refusing to give in to outside conditions are the best ways to reach those big, hairy, audacious goals."
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