Learn from the Best: Psychoanalyzing the Top CEOs

growthIf you steal ideas from one person, it’s called plagiarism. If you steal ideas from a lot of people, it’s called research. So let’s do some “research” and crawl into the brains of a few Inc 500 CEOs to dig up some nuggets of business and marketing wisdom that we can apply to our own small businesses.

The Inc 500, by the way, is a compendium of the fastest growing companies of the year.


What better place is there to start than with Jim Mitchell, the CEO of the number one Inc 500 company, Fuhu? Mitchell’s company makes “Nabi” tablets specially designed for children.

“We were tired of giving our kids the iPad when it first came out, and there really wasn’t anything else,” Mitchell told the LA Times. “They wanted to play with all the games on the iPad, and it would come back all smudged, or if they dropped it, for heaven’s sakes, it would shatter.”

Lesson: If a product is designed for a certain market segment, how can it be modified to make it better suited for a different market segment? Can you tweak your product or service and start selling to a different group of people? Simplified cellphones with larger keyboards marketed to older people is a similar idea.

Quest Nutrition

Tom Bilyeu is co-founder, president and CEO of Quest Nutrition, number two on the Inc 500 list for 2014. Quest Nutrition makes snack foods and sweets that appeal to the health, fitness and weight loss markets. You can find quite a few blogs that Bilyeu has written in the last few years, but the central theme of one is advice we should all take:

Excuses are your one true enemy.

Bilyeu makes a compelling case that we are our own worst enemies. We are the only ones who can prevent us from achieving our goals and if we allow ourselves to make excuses, we are hiding this fact from ourselves.

This is powerful business and personal advice. Take it.

(By the way both Fuhu and Quest Nutrition are located in El Segundo, California. So maybe another big lesson we learn here is if you’re planning a startup, El Segundo is a primo location.)

Reliant Asset Management

Barry Roman and Michael Roman are cofounders of Reliant Asset Management (RAM), a company that designs, leases and sells modular buildings. The pair have a long history in this market. Back in 1986 they started Resun Leasing, which also operated in this area.

Two big lessons are worth noting with RAM. First, when they left Resun, Barry and Michael Roman had to wait out a long “no compete” period. Second, RAM’s success can be attributed in large part to the fact that it leases and sells modular buildings in the areas experiencing the oil shale boom. Let’s quickly look at these two lessons.

Despite being “out of the game” for a while, Barry and Michael Roman kept their focus on what they knew best and as soon as their “time out” was over, they jumped back in. Know your strengths and don’t let any temporary setback keep you from applying your strengths to your business.

Next, it’s often said that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that’s why it’s smart to get involved when you see a market segment that’s experiencing impressive growth. I can guarantee you that virtually all the businesses around the Bakken Formation in North Dakota are doing quite well today.

Is there an industry or an area experiencing impressive growth that you can sell to or relocate to? Marketing gets a lot easier when the folks you you want to sell to are multiplying and have a lot of needs that must be filled. It’s a lot easier being a genius in a bull market.

I’ve just looked at people who head up the top three companies on the Inc 500 list. I also want to point out that they represent vastly different industries. Technology isn’t the only path to impressive business growth.

Why not examine the list yourself and see what additional lessons and traits you can glean from it?

Sponsored by AT&T