Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, 10th-Anniversary Edition
How maverick companies have passed up the growth treadmill — and focused on greatness instead.
It’s an axiom of business that great companies grow their revenues and profits year after year. Yet quietly, under the radar, a small number of companies have rejected the pressure of endless growth to focus on more satisfying business goals. Goals like being great at what they do, creating a great place to work, providing great customer service, making great contributions to their communities, and finding great ways to lead their lives.
In Small Giants, veteran journalist Bo Burlingham takes us deep inside fourteen remarkable companies that have chosen to march to their own drummer. They include Anchor Brewing, the original microbrewer; CitiStorage Inc., the premier independent records-storage business; Clif Bar & Co., maker of organic energy bars and other nutrition foods; Righteous Babe Records, the record company founded by singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco; Union Square Hospitality Group, the company of restaurateur Danny Meyer; and Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, including the world-famous Zingerman’s Deli of Ann Arbor.
Burlingham shows how the leaders of these small giants recognized the full range of choices they had about the type of company they could create. And he shows how we can all benefit by questioning the usual definitions of business success. In his new afterward, Burlingham reflects on the similarities and learning lessons from the small giants he covers in the book.
From the Hardcover edition.
restaurant was a good idea, and I still do, but nowadays it’s also whether or not something fits into our plans for growth,” he said. “We’re clear on what we’re interested in and not interested in. We feel like we’ve done enough one-off fine-dining restaurants. On the other hand, we created Shake Shack, which shows we’re not shying away from having some fun doing smaller things that could potentially be replicated.” One goal of the strategy was to provide opportunities for employees to move
company. A plump, bright-eyed, effusive young woman, she works in customer service and loves it. “I’m always busy, always learning, always problem solving,” she said. “My job is to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, and there aren’t many restrictions on that. Say we have a shipping problem—we didn’t send the right amount of something. We can overnight it and get it to the customer before 8:00 a.m. the next morning. Or we can give a credit. Or whatever else we think is best.” Like
magnifying glasses to check the quality of the counterfeit bills. Then there were the ten tons of sweet onions that UNBT shipped in every year from Walla Walla, Washington, where Schmitt and his wife had gone to college. He’d gotten the idea from friends in California, who would ask him to bring home a supply of the town’s signature vegetable whenever he went back for a visit. It occurred to him that customers, too, might like to get Walla Walla onions, and so he began importing huge quantities
business, I have to answer to people. Anonymous people will buy it—the public. These are my things. When I make them, I care very much about who wears them. How can you market that? You can’t market that. In my life, I only made something twice one time, for two friends of mine. Everything else I make for one person only, the person who will wear it. “I also do my fancy. Last week, I stopped production on work for [a client]. She’s waiting for me. Instead I do other things, things that I’ve cut.
creative challenge of the first order—the sort of challenge that Brodsky loves. “I guess I’m like a lot of entrepreneurs,” he said. “When I’m told something is impossible, I want nothing more than to go out and do it. That’s what I like, doing things other people think are impossible. It’s not so much that I want to prove something, at least not to anyone but myself. But for people like me, business is sort of a puzzle. We believe there’s a solution to every problem, and we think we can figure it