Management: Fast growers
Each year, Inc. Magazine hosts its annual Inc. 500 Conference for the CEOs of companies who make the famous list of fastest growing private companies in America. This year, for the first time, the list was expanded from 500 to include the 5,000 fastest growing companies.
About 1,400 executives accepted their invitation to the conference this past September in Chicago. For two days and three nights, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with successful entrepreneurs, learn from the top business minds around and have some fun. The conference consisted of a series of exciting and distinctive events.
No less than 18 companies with ties to the glass industry made this year’s list, not bad for an industry with a 5,000-year-old product. As best I could determine, ours was the only glass company represented at the conference, which took place just days before GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo in Atlanta. The list, as well as the conference, were dominated by today’s fast-growing industries such as health care, human resources, IT services, telecommunications and software. Most of the attendees were entrepreneurs whose startup businesses are taking off incredibly fast; only 3 percent of the list was made up of companies more than 50 years old. As a manager in an older industry, with an older company, my experience was valuable and offered new insights.
The conference was two full days and included at least 60 different speakers. The general sessions each included several speakers, and breakout sessions presented attendees with multiple seminars to choose from. The first general session featured Scott D. Cook, founder of Intuit, Mountain View, Calif., who challenged the audience to consider, “what will be the mark you leave on the world?” I was amazed that the CEO of a software company could offer so many business ideas applicable to the glass industry. His first advice was to create a happy workforce; everything else stems from this, he said, and unhappy or underperforming people should be asked to leave.
Much of the rest of his presentation built upon the basic principle of leadership. Take a peek at his presentation, one of the most inspirational of the weekend, at www.intuit.com/inc500.
Other general session speakers included Donald Katz, the founder of Audible.com, Newark, N.J.; Edmund S. Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics; and media personality William Jefferson Clinton, a disbarred Arkansas attorney.
Most of the breakout sessions offered business advice and success stories, and it was difficult to choose which ones to attend. One session did stand out; it was a small group experience called “Creativity by Taking Risks” led by two members of Chicago’s famous Second City comedy troupe. For an hour, about 30 strangers went through various communication exercises and experiments designed to teach how some of the same techniques used in improvisational comedy can be applied in the business world.
A full social schedule dominated the rest of the conference. An opening reception the night of Sept. 6 and a group breakfast Sept. 7 helped participants break the ice before the real business started. The night of Sept. 7, Inc. Magazine rented the entire House of Blues for dinner and a private performance by Shirley King, B.B. King’s daughter. Sept. 8 night opened with a champagne reception before the black-tie awards ceremony and gala. The evening was headlined by the B-52s, who performed a private concert in the relatively intimate setting of a hotel ballroom. You haven’t heard “Rock Lobster” until you danced to it from 10 feet away on a Hilton parquet dance floor with hundreds of successful, celebrating entrepreneurs.
A “marketplace” with tradeshow-type booths for the conference’s 20 or so sponsors was open between activities as a place to mingle and do business. Many of the booths featured give-aways like Starbucks gift cards, cell phone chargers and books. By far the best swag was the free iPhone that American Express gave each attendee.
In all, the Inc. 500 Conference was well worth the hefty registration fee and the time away from work and family. Those who attended were pumped to be there and to have won the award. The atmosphere was almost that of a revival; we walked away all fired-up to get back to work, inspired by the success stories of the people we had met and listened to. It is a shame that the timing did not work out well for those of us in the glass business. Perhaps next year more of our peers will be recipients and will choose to take advantage of this star-studded program. Until then, take to heart the closing advice offered by Charles Hallberg, CEO of this year’s Number 1 company on the Inc. 5000 list, MemberHealth, Solon, Ohio: “Good ideas don’t make money; flawless execution does.”