So you think you're not so different from an Inc. 500 CEO? Try tracking down your demographic twin--as this writer did--and finding out the truth. If you can handle it

Now that this year's Inc. 500 ranking is out, inevitably a bevy of wanna-bes will burst forth, posing the burning question, "How come I'm not an Inc. 500 CEO?"

It's a question that only a deluded and mildly undernourished individual could ask. I know; I am one. But, really, I'm a lot like Inc. 500 CEOs. Consider: I'm 42, their average age. And, like 92% of the honorees, I'm male, as I've been for most of my life. So what makes them special?

For answers, I searched for the CEO of a company on this year's list who is most like me. I wanted to understand, finally, why it is that he's there and I'm not.

First I filled out the 73-question survey all contenders fill out. Then we searched the database to pinpoint my soul mate. Soon my alter ego emerged: one Ed Rankin, whose answers matched mine on 25 questions. What's more, he's only 10 days younger than I. So what was it about Ed that had enabled him--and not me--to guide People Solutions, a human-resources-consulting company, to the 277th spot?

As it happened, our similarities didn't stop with the survey answers. To wit:

  • We're both married with two children, one boy and a younger girl.
  • We both played the trumpet throughout grade school and junior high.
  • The NBA players' strike killed his appetite for professional sports; mine was offed by the baseball players' strike of 1994-1995.
  • Robert Duvall is one of our favorite actors.
  • We were both in the middle of reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.
  • Both of our offices are near a major airport.
  • He drives a 1999 BMW 740i with a sports package. Um, did I mention we both played the trumpet?

To be frank (we're both blunt, too), I was stymied about our differences until Ed and I shared stories of our recent imbroglios with the IRS. That is where, my research reveals, our personalities split.

Last year, just before Christmas, I was notified that I'd filed form 5500 21 days late, for which the IRS planned to penalize me. Reflexively, I flew into a tizzy. Unless I could clear this up by contacting a certain C. Martin, my life--what remained of it--lay in ruins.

Once tracked down, C. told me to fax him an explanation. I did, then called to make sure he'd gotten it. The person who answered, not C. Martin, could not disclose that information, she said, but assured me that I'd be hearing from them. From her tone, I detected that the form 5500 SWAT team was going to be swooping down on my house, surrounding the perimeter, and taking me out. I was doomed.

Later, in a note dated 3 February, I was asked to disregard the IRS's earlier notice. But who was going to give me back those 49 days of abject terror? I thought Ed, being just like me, would be able to commiserate. But here is where I learned why Ed had the time to build a company and I didn't.

His close encounter with the IRS occurred in July 1996, when, he says, he was visited by an agent looking for an overdue employment-tax payment of $90,000. Surely if my experience was any indication, the IRS had made a mistake. Ed and I were so alike. He smelled pepper, and I sneezed.

But Ed knew he owed the cash. "We were deferring our employment tax--I hate to admit it--to finance our receivables," he says. Ultimately, he used a factor to finance his accounts receivable and paid the IRS. Had it all blown up, he says, he would have tried "something else."

That's Ed. He never loses sight of who's in charge--even if, as you and I know, the IRS is always in charge. That's why Ed was busy brazenly creating jobs and fueling the economy while I was folding socks for my trip to prison. And that's why I've got a closet full of unexecuted, if not brilliant, ideas. Given my troubles, who has time to execute?

Inc. editor-at-large Jeffrey L. Seglin is not the CEO of a company on this year's list of fastest-growing companies. Needless to say, he's none too pleased.