Five years ago this month, INC. published its first issue. The magazine was 112 pages in length, and weighed in at eight and a half ounces. Its contents included the first publication of the INC. 100, along with an article about a brash young company that was going about the business of creating a new industry with the name of a fruit, of all things, on its letterhead. That same issue also contained a letter from Bernard A. Goldhirsh, the founder and publisher of the magazine. INC. is committed "to publish the experiences of smaller company managers . . .," Goldhirsh wrote, "to search out and report on events affecting the destiny of small to mid-size companies . . . and [to] help restore a fertile environment -- one that stimulates growth, frees capital, and enables smaller companies to make their full contribution to our society."
At the time, this new publication was viewed with outright skepticism in media circles. Why, it was asked, would anyone want to read, let alone publish, a magazine for and about smaller companies? Yet a mere five years after its inception, the magazine's growth is a fitting testimonial to the appropriateness of its mission. Viewed from that perspective, the success of INC. is also a measure of the degree to which the country itself has changed in that time.
During those five years, the general perception of the role small companies play in the continuum of economic creation has been transformed. In fact, those same values and ideas that once made INC. appear such a maverick have so percolated through American business as to become conventional wisdom.
With this in mind, we at INC. decided to use our fifth anniversary as an opportunity to explore this transformation in the American corporate landscape. We discovered that, if anything, we had under-estimated the degree to which the tremors are being felt in every facet of the economy.
The evidence is everywhere -- in the numbers concerning new business formation; in the turbulence of the capital markets; in the fervor that greeted the publication of books that added words like "culture" and "excellence" to our business vocabulary; in the kaleidoscopic formation and restructuring of entire industries; in the attempts of larger corporations to learn to think small again.
As the contents of this issue document, the forces propelling this transformation are as varied as its manifestations. In many cases, we have yet to invent the language with which to take the measure of this new landscape, and so we fall back on words like "entrepreneur."
Yet what, precisely, is an entrepreneur? Is it someone who creates a company? Someone who takes risks? Someone with a bias toward action? Or -- as Federal Express's Fred Smith suggested recently to INC. -- someone who recognizes that inaction is often riskier than action?
Looking back on the changes of the past five years, we can't help but wonder whether all these definitions somehow obscure the most basic contribution of the entrepreneur. Perhaps the phenomenon we are witnessing now has less to do with action or risk-taking than with the simple observation that people, not institutions, create economic wealth. In this respect, perhaps the entrepreneur is leading all of corporate America to a rediscovery of business as enterprise, a rediscovery of business as a process limited only by the boundaries of each individual's intelligence, imagination, energy, and daring.