Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big

10th anniversary edition By Bo Burlingham

A Book Review

Check out our Small Giants book review. Written by accomplished business journalist and author, Bo Burlingham, the book explores 14 extraordinary companies who took unusual paths to find business success and personal fulfillment.

Burlingham’s curiosity of ‘small giants’ began when he wrote a cover story for Inc. magazine on ZCoB, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The owners, Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, started the very successful Zingerman’s Delicatessen in 1982. In the early 1990’s they came up with an innovative plan for growth, resulting in today’s ZCoB. A family of businesses located in Ann Arbor, each with their own specialty and identity, and each with one or more managing partners who work in the business and share ownership. Out of ZCoB has come new opportunities for employees, work environments filled with passion and enthusiasm, and deep connections to the Ann Arbor community. The enterprise has allowed Saginaw and Weinzweig to live the ideals they believe in.

Burlingham’s deep dive into ZCoB led him on a quest to find other similarly inspiring companies. These companies had a difficult to define quality that set them apart. Burlingham describes: “I could sense it as I walked around the business. I could see it in the contents of the bulletin boards and on the faces of the people. I could hear it in their voices. I could feel it in the way they interacted with one another, with customers, and with total strangers.” It wasn’t until Burlingham met with Gary Erickson, of Clif Bar, that he found the word he was looking for: ‘mojo.’ There was an energy about these companies, a contagious passion amongst employees, and an authentic connection to their customers. These companies stayed true to their values, were determined to be the best at what they did, created a stimulating work environment, strove for extraordinary customer service and established strong connections to their communities. Whatever financial accomplishments these companies have come second to these fulfilling non-monetary successes.

Burlingham includes 14 “Small Giants” in his book. They vary in size, location and type of business. He sets criteria for the types of companies he wants to include. These companies have made a conscious decision to follow a non-traditional path toward success. Their leaders have done a lot of soul searching in creating businesses that feel true to themselves, rather than answering to outside forces. Each of these companies has built remarkably intimate relationships with their local communities, customers and vendors. They have close-knit work environments that go way beyond fulfilling the economic needs of their employees. They are admired by others inside and outside of their industry. These are all private companies, who do not answer to outside shareholders.

In this the 10th anniversary edition of Small Giants, Burlingham takes another look at these ‘small giants’. Not surprisingly, all have changed in the years between 2005 and 2015. One narrowly escaped bankruptcy, another did not, and there were a few that changed ownership. Changes came as a result of the economy, specific industry shifts, customer habits, or personal decisions. Each of these ‘small giants’ came up against difficulties, yet most came out stronger than before. “For true small giants, greatness is not a destination, but a journey, and it never ends.”

With Small Giants, Burlingham hopes that in highlighting what makes these companies great, he inspires entrepreneurs to see the possibilities in deciding what kind of company they want to build, while galvanizing executives and employees to think about what kind of organization they want to be a part of.

Are there changes your organization could make that would stimulate more camaraderie amongst your employees, create a more interesting and exciting workspace, or help build a stronger connection with your community? Get in touch with the 100Ninjas Team and let us help you be even better than you already are.

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