Great Companies: What’s Size Got to Do With It?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On May 9, 2016

Great-companies-what's-size-got-to-do-with-t?So often the companies that are held up as examples of “great companies” are large companies that dominate a market. And while there is nothing wrong with a company being massive, it’s quite frankly not something that a lot of us will achieve. Can you still have a great company without being (or perhaps even aspiring to be) huge?

Not long ago, author Bo Burlingham wrote an article for Forbes that highlighted The Best Small Companies in America in 2016. Here are the criteria he used in selecting the companies he chose as the best. The company must be:

  • acknowledged as outstanding by those who know the industry best
  • focused on being great rather than just big (despite having opportunity to grow faster)
  • recognized for contributions to its community and to society
  • financially healthy (a sound business model, a strong balance sheet and steady profit margins) for at least ten years
  • privately owned and closely held
  • human-scale (frontline employees have real interaction with top leaders)

Here is an example of a great small company from Burlingham’s list. I picked this one because it’s a Colorado-based company like mine!

New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, with 685 employees has estimated revenues of$225 million. Here’s some insight into what makes New Belgium a great small company.

In 2013 employees were called to an all-hands meeting, where Kim Jordan, the company’s cofounder and then CEO, delivered big news. She told employees (to their astonishment) that she had just sold the company. While they were still gasping and wondering to whom they had been sold, Jordan told the employees to open the envelopes that had been left on their chairs. Inside they found a mirror. It was how she informed them that she had sold the company to them. Today New Belgium is completely employee-owned (through a stock-ownership plan) and is widely recognized as a case study in progressive management. Additionally, the company is held up for its sustainability practices. The Fort Collins brewery produces 18% of its electricity on-site, and the company has won numerous awards for its culture. Read more about New Belgium Brewing here

You may not brew beer. You may never have the number of employees or the same revenues as New Belgium Brewery. Maybe you’ll never win awards for being a sustainable business. But the point is, size alone isn’t what drives a company like New Belgium. Your company doesn’t have to be a megalith to be great. What would make your company great—regardless of it’s size?