Elizabeth Elting sounds like a lot of CEOs when she proclaims that her translation company could one day be a billion-dollar business. Unlike the vast majority, her TransPerfect Translations may have a shot. The company had revenue of $301 million in 2011 (that's annualized growth above 30 percent since its Inc. 500 appearance) and expects to do $350 million this year. It employs more than 2,000 people in 80 offices on five continents. And this dorm-room start-up grew large without investors, debt, or even a board of advisers.
"We like not having to answer to other people. We like that it's just the two of us."
Elting describes TransPerfect's growth as a prosaic affair of setting and achieving milestones and expanding into areas such as staffing and litigation-support services at customers' request. She and her co-founder and co-CEO, Phil Shawe, have funded everything—including 10 small acquisitions, many of them overseas—with cash flow. "We realized outside money wasn't really necessary," says Elting. "We like not having to answer to other people, to spend time explaining exactly where we are to investors. We like that it's just the two of us."
Which isn't to say the co-CEOs are an island. TransPerfect fields an astonishing 75-person senior management team, virtually all promoted from within and including many who started at entry level and have been with the company more than 15 years.
Not surprisingly, Elting receives several phone calls a week from would-be acquirers or investors—but the conversations don't go very far. "The company is still growing, and we can finance it, so we don't see a reason to sell," she says matter of factly. "There's nothing else we'd rather be doing every day."
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan