How maverick companies have passed up the growth treadmill – and focused on greatness instead, full list below

Small Giants by Bo Burlingham poses big challenges to those who assume that by definition growth is a good thing.


Accountants, bankers, commentators and business schools all tell us that thriving companies have to grow their profits and revenues year-on-year.

The only way is up they say.

Burlingham looks at businesses that choose ‘the road less travelled’… they reject the pressures of endless growth and instead they focus on being the best at what they do, creating a great workplace, legendary customer service, and a sense of community (both locally and in the workplace).

 In the book “Small Giants”, journalist Bo Burlingham takes us deep inside fourteen remarkable privately held companies, in widely varying industries across the USA, that have chosen to march to their own drummer. He searches for the magic ingredients that give these companies their unique “mojo” and the lessons we can learn from them.

 Attributes of these ‘businesses with mojo’ are:

 1. The founders/leaders recognised the full range of choices they had about the type of company they could create. They hadn’t accepted the standard menu of options or business model as a given.

2. They had allowed themselves to question the usual definitions of success in business, resisted pressures to follow conventional paths and to imagine possibilities other than the ones all of us are familiar with.

3. The leaders had overcome the enormous pressures on successful companies to take the paths they had not chosen and did not necessarily want to follow. They remained in control rather than accommodating themselves to a business shaped by outside forces.

4. Each company had an extraordinarily intimate relationship with the local city, town, or county in which it did business – a relationship that went well beyond the usual concept of `giving back.'” 

5. All companies cultivated exceptionally intimate relationships with customers and suppliers, based on personal contact, one-on-one interaction, and mutual commitment to delivering on promises.”

 6. Because they were privately owned, they had the freedom to develop their own management systems and practices. In fact the companies have developed for themselves a wide variety of corporate structures and modes of governance.

7. The companies also had what struck Bo as “unusually intimate workplaces.”


8. The leaders had unbridled, limitless passion for their business and about their service or product. Bo comments “I noticed the passion that the leaders brought to what the company did. They loved the subject matter, whether it is music, safety lighting, food, special effects, constant torque hinges, beer, records storage, construction, dining, or fashion.”

The 14 companies mentioned in the book Small Giants are


Anchor Brewing, in San Francisco: the original American microbrewery, see


CitiStorage Inc., in Brooklyn: the premier independent records-storage business in the United States, see


Clif Bar & Co., in Berkeley: a leading maker of natural and organic energy bars and other nutrition foods, see


ECCO, in Boise: the leading manufacturer of backup alarms and amber warning lights for commercial vehicles see


Hammerhead Productions, in Studio City, California: a supplier of computer-generated special effects to the motion picture industry, see


Reell Precision Manufacturing designs custom hinges, wrap spring clutches, precision springs and wire forms, see


Righteous Babe Records, in Buffalo: the celebrated record company founded by singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, see


Union Square Hospitality Group, in New York City: the company of restaurateur Danny Meyer, see


Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor: including the famous Zingerman’s Deli, see


OC Tanner Co. company with 1,600 hundred employees and annual sales of $300 million, see

Rhythm & Hues Studios character animation and visual effects studio, see

Selima Inc a two-person fashion design and dressmaking firm

The Goltz Group parent company of celebrated Chicago retail stores Jayson Home & Garden, Chicago Art Source Gallery and Artists Frame Service, see

WL Butler Construction Inc full-service general building contractor, see


Size and growth rates aside, these small giants share some very interesting characteristics. They are all utterly determined to be the best at what they do.

Closer to home in Ireland there are examples of small giants, many Celtar clients aspire to becoming “small giants”, and several are well on the path.


For more on the author and book see , Bo Burlingham is an editor at

For more on us see