Jerry Gorde, president of Virginia Textiles Inc., is not exactly what you would call your typical entrepreneur. Take his two offices, for example.
One office, which is used daily, Gorde shares with five other people and two dogs. The other, says the entrepreneur, he uses about six hours each year. "When bankers and large creditors come in, they don't want to see me in a cluttered office with eight telephones ringing and a dog underneath my desk while I do my job. That just doesn't make them feel secure. So I had this walk-in closet upstairs turned into an office. And it's got mahogany furniture, and it's got walnut paneling and all, and I have a little coat and tie up there sitting on a hanger. And I take off my jeans and tuck them under my desk and sit behind this desk and act like this is what I do for a living. And as soon as they leave I go back downstairs and assume my regular responsibilities." Gorde's "responsibilities," it turns out, include delivering the mail to each of the company's 55 employees every day.
Gorde's unorthodoxy is not simply a matter of style. Virginia Textiles is fully employee-owned, through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan created to Gorde's specifications by a Richmond, Va., law firm. Decisions that affect the well-being of employees or that could have a significant impact on the future of the company are put to a vote of all the employeestockholders, an unwieldy and often conflict-ridden process that Gorde nonetheless feels is essential to the preservation of the spirit of the enterprise.
Gorde is quick to point out, however, that this is no social experiment. "This company is very much based in capitalism," he explains, "and it is very much aware of the bottom line." As proof, Gorde points to the numbers.
Back in 1978, revenues were less than $300,000. By 1982, sales had reached more than $3.6 million, earning Virginia Textiles a place on this year's INC. 500, a ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States which begins on page 67.
Placing #104 on the list of 500, Virginia Textiles is in fast company. Sigal Construction Corp., a Washington, D.C., construction management service firm, set a blistering pace for this year's group with a five-year sales increase of better than 20,000%. And more than 200 of the companies on the list saw their revenues increase tenfold between 1978 and 1982. It comes as no surprise that one result of the torrid growth rates of the 500 companies is the generation of more than 46,000 new jobs during the past five years.
Clearly, companies like those on this year's INC. 500 have played a major role in the belated acknowledgement of the importance of small and medium-size companies to the vitality of the economy-Job generation, technical innovation, the creation of wealth and economic opportunity -- these are the characteristics by which this sector of the economy has come to be known.
But these characteristics are, I think, by-products of an overlooked aspect of the uniqueness of smaller private companies.
In his upstairs office, Jerry Gorde accounts for himself to outsiders who have only the most superficial understanding of his enterprise. Downstairs, with his five colleagues and two dogs, he is free to give expression to his own personal, idiosyncratic vision for Virginia Textiles, or as he himself puts it, "to pursue my own fantasy about how capitalism should really work."
The INC. 500 is more than a celebration of growth in revenues. It is, finally, a celebration of the fulfillment of 500 very personal, very private visions.