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Want to Be a Better Leader? How the Inc. 500 Do It

Founders of fast-growth companies describe the secrets of their success.
1
My Job Is to Solve Every Kind of Crisis
Noi Solutions, No. 300
My Job Is to Solve Every Kind of Crisis
I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I always knew I wanted to do something on my own. After years of working for Victoria's Secret and Nike, I started Noi Solutions to help retailers manufacture their goods in Bangladesh and to help Bangladeshi factories market their capabilities to retailers. That same month, I got pregnant. The first two years after my son was born were really tough, as I had to manage the demands of a growing baby and a growing business. I dealt with the pressure by just staying hyperfocused on those two things. From the time he was 6 months old, I've taken my son on all of my business trips to Asia.

Running my own business has taught me that things don't always go your way, and you have to remain calm. Manufacturing in the developing world is challenging. Every day, there's a different problem. It could be not getting the buttons you need on time from China or dealing with political turmoil. At the end of the day, I'm responsible for anything that goes wrong. My job is to figure out how to solve crises so my customers don't have to.

(Read on for more about Saima Chowdhury's leadership under pressure, as told to Robin D. Schatz)
Saima Chowdhury • Noi Solutions • Three-year growth 1,519.5% • 2013 revenue $22.8 million PHOTO: Ismail Ferdous
2
The Biggest Obstacle Is Learning to Trust Yourself
Human Movement Management, No. 267
The Biggest Obstacle Is Learning to Trust Yourself
I started Human Movement in 2009 with a bunch of carpenters, beer drinkers, runners, hockey players, and mountain bikers--people who loved spending their weekends having fun. We had no official work hours; we'd show up in yoga pants and board shorts, with our dogs in tow. Most afternoons, we poured beer from a kegerator and hashed out new ideas while reciting lines from The Big Lebowski.

By 2012, things had really taken off. At the same time, I became a father. Suddenly, I thought I had to become a parent-type figure and start wearing khakis and stop skateboarding to work. I started fake-interviewing myself every day with questions like, "What makes you the ideal candidate to be president of this company?" When I couldn't answer, I decided to find a real executive who could lead a fast-growing business. I did just that, and I failed miserably. It was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.

The new chief operating officer implemented policies about workday hours, email protocol, and reporting structure. The spirit of the company died almost instantaneously.

(Read on for more on how Human Movement got its groove back, as told to Jennifer Alsever)
Jeff Suffolk • Human Movement Management • Three-year growth 1,724.4% • 2013 revenue $9.1 million PHOTO: Jamie Kripke

3
Divorced, But Still Running the Company Together
Divorced, But Still Running the Company Together
Getting divorced is tough enough, but sitting 100 feet from your ex at work every day? That's the new normal for Lacy Starling and Tony Coutsoftides, co-founders of Florence, Kentucky–based Legion Logistics. As their business took off in 2012, their marriage crumbled, but the two found a way to keep the company together.

Lacy: We went into the divorce knowing that if we weren't mature about things, both our lives would fall apart. One thing we did was to wait until we were ready to file the divorce paperwork before we told our employees about it. That meant a lot of play-acting for a while, but we didn't want them to get worried and start circulating their resumes.

Tony: The divorce proceedings were the easy part; the hard part was rebuilding trust with each other. We created a "must-talk" list of things we have to consult each other on before making a decision. That includes any expenditure over a certain amount, hiring or firing, big customer-facing decisions, and any new contracts.

Lacy: We try really hard to respect each other's decisions in our respective areas, but we still tell each other before making them.

Tony: On the plus side, it's almost like Legion became an official company once it wasn't family owned anymore.

Lacy: Right. When you own a company with someone you're not married to, you have to work through all sorts of scenarios, like what happens if someone dies or wants to leave. Married co-owners might not do that. For us, it would be irresponsible not to.

(Read on for more on Lacy Starling & Tony Coutsoftides of Legion Logistics, as told to Alix Stuart)
PHOTO: Illustration by Joel Kimmel
4
What I Learned in the Military, and What I Had to Unlearn
Rapier Solutions, No. 407
What I Learned in the Military, and What I Had to Unlearn
Without the military, I wouldn't be where I am today. Everything I do is based on what they taught me. The military trains you and motivates you to always give your best. You learn your strengths and how to overcome your weaknesses.

For example, I have a bad habit of solving problems in my head. One day, I was giving an update to a colonel. I told him when we were going to start and finish a project, but he had to point out that I never told him how we were going to get it done. That was an important lesson I still use today about making sure you explain how you've reached conclusions so others can follow along.

Blunt honesty is prized in the military. People don't do things blindly--they speak up if they disagree. But I've learned that you cannot do that as much in civilian life. People don't always want to hear the bad stuff. They take it as a threat or an insult...

(Read on for more on William Bailey of Rapier Solutions, as told to Darren Dahl)
William Bailey • Rapier Solutions • Three-year growth 1,163.2% • 2013 revenue $10.1 million PHOTO: Jeremy M. Lange




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