30 Years of No. 1 Companies
1981: Stoops Express
Daleville, Ind.1982: Altos Computer Systems
San Jose, Calif. 1983: Sigal Construction
Washington, D.C. 1984: Pedus International
Los Angeles 1985: Herbalife International
Inglewood, Calif. 1986: ABC Supply
Beloit, Wis. 1987 American Photo Group
Atlanta 1988: American Central Gas
Tulsa 1989, 1990: Cogentrix
Charlotte, N.C. 1991: Gateway 2000
N. Sioux City, S.D. 1992: Kingston Technology
Fountain Valley, Calif. 1993: Drypers Corporation
Houston 1994: Object Design
Burlington, Mass. 1995: Furst Group
Shahmong, N.J. 1996: Equinox International
Las Vegas 1997: Optiva
Bellevue, Wash. 1998: Justice Technology
Culver City, Calif. 1999: Roth Staffing
Brea, Calif. 2000: Parson Group
Chicago 2001: High Point Solutions
Sparta, N.J. 2002: The Outsource Group Walnut
Creek, Calif. 2003: American Biophysics
East Greenwich, R.I. 2004: InPhonic
Washington, D.C. 2005: Video Gaming Technologies
Roebuck, S.C. 2006: Litle & Co.
Lowell, Mass. 2007: MemberHealth
Solon, Ohio 2008: Senior Whole Health
Cambridge, Mass. 2009: Northern Capital Insurance
Miami 2010: Ambit Energy
San Jose, Calif.
N. Sioux City, S.D.
Fountain Valley, Calif.
Culver City, Calif.
East Greenwich, R.I.
1980 Revenue: $10.6 million
Three-Year Growth: 9,372%
Jeff Stoops was working as a teacher when he decided to earn a little cash on the side, driving trucks. "In 1971, I looked around and saw truck drivers making $18,000 a year while teachers were making $8,100,” he told Inc. back in 1981. He founded Stoops Express, a trucking company, in 1976. The company now has six locations in throughout Indiana and Ohio, and operates under the name Stoops Freightliner - Quality Trailer.
1981 Revenue: $21.4 million
Three-Year Growth: 14,164%
Founded in 1977 by David G. Jackson, Altos Computer Systems was sold to Acer in September 1990. Altos was known for its early development of the multiuser microsystem—MUMS—an inexpensive computer that was used as a data processor for small companies on tight budgets.
1982 Revenue: $47.5 million
Three-Year Growth: 20,214%
Sigal was founded in 1977 by Gerald Sigal, a civil engineer who received his degree from New York University. Initially, the company focused on renovations and interiors, but in the early 1980’s expanded its scope to base building in the Washington, D.C. area. Gerald Sigal told Inc. magazine in 2006 that though he has received plenty of offers to sell the company, he plans to keep it private. “This is what I've always wanted it to be: a family business," he said. "I couldn't be happier."
1983 Revenue: $60.5 million
Three-Year Growth: 15,707%
In the year that Microsoft made the Inc. 500 at No. 80, Pedus International, a building maintenance and security firm based in Los Angeles, topped the charts. In a 1984 interview with Inc., Dick Dotts, then-CEO of Pedus, said “There's no philosophy other than having fun doing what you do.” Dotts was given seed funding from Peter Dussmann, who still runs the Dussmann Group, a global firm with 57,000 employees that started out as a home-cleaning service in Munich.
1984 Revenue: $423.1 million
Three-Year Growth: 109,510%
Mark Hughes, founder of Herbalife, got his start selling the Herbalife weight loss product from the trunk of his car. The company’s growth exploded in the early 1980’s, and went public on the NASDAQ in 1986. The company faced some scrutiny in the mid-80’s (they were sued by the Food and Drug Administration) and sadly, in 2000, Hughes died from an accidental overdose. Still, the company has been resilient: in 2010, the company posted net sales of $2.7 billion.
1985 Revenue: $183.4 million
Three-Year Growth: 109,737%
Ken Hendricks founded American Builders and Contractors Supply in 1982 after years of working with his father, from whom he learned everything about roofing and siding. The company has maintained solid growth to this day, and as of 2010, the organization had about 400 locations in 44 states. When Ken Hendricks died in 2007, he was then the No. 107 richest person in America, according to Forbes.
1986 Revenue: $78.0 million
Three-Year Growth: 52,244%
For years, Kodak dominated the American photo market. But an antitrust suit enabled a new niche for smaller companies to operate within: photo processing. Enter Steve Bostic, founder of American Photo Group, Bostic who assembled a network of 20 plants and 1,600 employees within just a few years to create one of the country’s fastest-growing photo processing companies. "We're just getting this business off the ground," Bostic told Inc. in 1987. "My ambition is to build a billion-dollar company and control it.” In the mid-90’s, perhaps with a bit of irony, Bostic sold the company to Kodak.
1987 Revenue: $93.0 million
Three-Year Growth: 82,168%
The Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978 was one of the first significant steps towards a deregulated natural gas industry; it also created an opening for savvy entrepreneurs looking to break into the space. Enter Kevin Sullivan, a co-founder of American Central Gas. "I think we can go to infinity," Sullivan told Inc. in 1988, "as long as we hire the right people and let them go and do it.” The company broke up in the early 90’s as the four founders became embroiled in breach-of-contract litigation.
1988 Revenue: $129.7 million
1988 Three-Year Growth: 96,716.40%
1989 Revenue: $201.9 million
1989 Three-Year Growth: 151,681%
The only company to ever achieve the Inc. No. 1 spot two years (consecutively, no less), Cogentrix Energy operates electric power generation facilities around the country. In 2003, Goldman Sachs acquired Cogentrix for $2.4 billion.
1990 Revenue: $275.5 million
Three-Year Growth: 26,469%
Gateway founder Ted Waitt took a $10,000 loan from his grandmother and began work on his computer company in his father’s farmhouse in Iowa in 1985. In 1991, the company introduced the distinctive “cow-spotted boxes,” a nod to the company’s rural founding. Gateway (it officially took off the “2000” in the early 90’s) was sold to Acer in October of 2007. Waitt, now a billionaire, resigned from the company about six years ago to focus on philanthropy.
1991 Revenue: $140.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 117,122%
John Tu and David Sun founded Kingston with one revolutionary product: the Single In-Line Memory Module, an early version of a memory card. Since then, the company has developed more than 2,000 products, and in 2010, the company's sales reached $6.5 billion.
1992 Revenue: $140.2 million
Three-Year Growth: 49,101%
Drypers Corporation manufactures disposable diapers and training pans for toddlers. In 1995, the company nearly went bankrupt, but brought on additional investment money and regained profitability in 1996. In 2001, Drypers was acquired by Associated Hygenic Products, a subsidiary of Disposable Soft Goods International.
1993 Revenue: $24.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 23,376%
In a 1994 Inc. profile of Object Design, the author noted that Object Design is “in a field of computer technology that can make you weep with bafflement if you're not part of the industry.” Object Design built software for object-database management—a lucrative position to be in the midst of a burgeoning tech market. The company launched its IPO in 1996.
1994 Revenue: $92.2 million
Three-Year Growth: 42,389%
The Furst Group, a reseller of long-distance phone service, earned its profit by helping customers save money on their phone bills. But by 2000, when long-distance phone rates had dropped and cell phones became widely adopted, the business struggled as customers found alternatives. In 2000, CEO John Streep sold the company for $12 million. Streep died in 2010.
1995 Revenue: $194.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 3,563%
Equinox International made its way to the top of the Inc. 500 by selling and marketing everything from water filters to vitamins. But the success of the company was apparently ensnared with illegal activity. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission forced Equinox to liquidate $40 million worth of assets, to be paid out to Equinox distributors who were bilked out of their money. CEO Bill Gouldd was ordered, by a federal judge, to stay out of the network marketing business for the rest of his life.
1996 Revenue: $72.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 31,507%
Optiva developed, manufactured and marketed Sonicare, the motorized toothbrush. In 2000, CEO David Guiliani sold Optiva Philips Oral Healthcare. “We were growing 30 percent a month, for years at a time,” Guiliani told Inc. in 2000 before the sale. “That pace was very demanding for them. Now growth has slowed to a more moderate rate. It's still very healthy, but we have the resources to build, adjust, and strengthen our infrastructure.”
2007 Revenue: $55.3 million
Three-Year Growth: 26,899%
The CEO of Justice Technology, a telecommunications company, told Inc. in 1998, "We never knew enough to know what it was we weren't supposed to be able to do…We just went ahead and did it.” David Glickman, then Justice’s CEO, is now the president and managing director of Glickman Capital, a buy-out firm that leads LBO transactions of middle-market companies.
1998 Revenue: $73.8 million
Three-Year Growth: 20,332%
Roth Staffing was founded in 1994 by CEO Ben Roth, and recently celebrated its 17th year in business. The company provides temporary, temporary-to-hire and direct hire staffing solutions to over 10,000 businesses throughout the United States. When Inc. interviewed Roth back in 2000, he told the magazine, “We didn't want to be the biggest; we wanted to be the best…We wanted our customers to rave about our service."
1999 Revenue: $56.2 million
Three-Year Growth: 27,992%
Parson Group, a consulting firm that provides financial expertise to big companies, topped the Inc. charts the year the dot-com bubble was beginning to burst. On the company’s success, Dan Weinfurter, Parson’s CEO, was blunt. "There are tons of opportunities out there," he told Inc. in 2000. "What we've done well is pick the right ones." In 2002, Parson was sold to Management Consulting Group.
2000 Revenue: $60 million
Three-Year Growth: 29,902%
High Point Solutions was founded by two non-college educated brothers from New Jersey. The company sold hardware for computer networks. Mike Mendibru, the company’s co-CEO, told Inc. "It's a strange story, almost unbelievable…My brother and I have to pinch ourselves all the time." In 2011, High Point opened their first office in the United Kingdom.
2001 Revenue: $294.5 million
Three-Year Growth: 54,331%
"I absolutely detested being told what to do if it didn't make sense,” Kevin Grauman, CEO of The Outsource Group, told Inc. in 2002. After a short stint in the corporate world, Grauman went on to found The Outsource Group which “helps clients comply with the thicket of state and federal employment laws.” In June 2006, the company was purchased by a private equity firm, General Atlantic Partners, for an undisclosed sum.
2002 Revenue: $54.6 million
Three-Year Growth: 26,615%
"We discovered a way to catalytically convert propane to yield CO2 and enhance this attractant with additional chemicals expelled through a patented mechanism,” Emma Duran told Inc. in 2002. “In laymen's terms: They made a machine that could lure and kill biting insects 24/7 on autopilot.” In April 2007, American Biophysics began its operations as a subsidiary of Woodstream Corporation, which owns the Mosquito Magnet.
2003 Revenue: $119.4 million
Three-Year Growth: 23,833%
Founded in 1999, InPhonic sold wireless services online, and rose to the top of the Inc. charts during the tech boom of the early 2000’s. However, in 2007, after burning through $3 million per week, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy, and its stock was delisted from the NASDAQ (the company went public at the end of 2004).
2004 Revenue: $99.8 million
Three-Year Growth: 9,721%
Video Gaming Technologies, like its name implies, makes touchscreen gaming machines and leases them to Indian casinos in Oklahoma. “Video gaming is like a permit to print money,” Jon Yarbrough, Video Gaming’s CEO, told Inc. in 2005. Though the company’s growth has tapered since 2005, the company has consistently put money into research and development, figuring out new products and games for its customers throughout the U.S.
2005 Revenue: $34.8 million
Three-Year Growth: 5,629%
A 2006 profile of Tom Litle, founder of his namesake company, a credit card transaction firm, noted that he “is responsible for some of the commercial world's least sexy innovations,” including those three-digit numbers on the backs of credit cards and the back-end system by which mailers receive discounts from the U.S. Postal Service for presorting by mail route. In 2010, the company won a Stevie Award for eCommerce Customer Service.
2006 Revenue: $1.2 billion
Three-Year Growth: 20,129%
The only Inc. 500 No. 1 company ever to achieve over a billion dollars in revenue, MemberHealth topped the charts by processing and managing nearly 52 million Medicare Part D prescriptions for its customers in 2006. “For the last couple of years, every day has been get up in the morning and run 100 miles an hour,” Charles Hallberg, MemberHealth’s CEO told Inc. in 2007. “This has put all of us under tremendous pressures. Change can be difficult but also very exciting.” Later that year, MemberHealth was acquired by Universal American Financial Corp.
2007 Revenue: $147.4 million
Three-Year Growth: 31,525%
The success of Senior Whole Health, a health plan for low-income seniors who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, was in some small part related to the aging U.S. population, many of whom rely on Medicare or Medicaid. Founded in 2004, the company continues to grow, placing on the 2009 Inc. 500 and 2010 Inc. 5000.
2008 Revenue: $95 million
Three-Year Growth: 19,812%
Alexander Anthony and Albert Fernandez founded Northern Capital Insurance to address the need for disaster insurance in Florida’s hurricane-prone climate. “In most businesses, response time is everything,” they told Inc. in 2009. “It's what the consumer cares about. We thought we could do better.” However, in May 2010, the company went belly up. “Northern Capital Insurance Company ("Northern Capital") was ordered into receivership for purposes of liquidation by the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County, Fla.,” their site notes.
2009 Revenue: $324.9 million
Three-Year Growth: 20,369%
Founded in 2006, Ambit Energy capitalized off of Texas’ deregulated energy market, buying power at wholesale prices and reselling it to customers acquired through a direct sales channel. Jere Thompson, Jr., the company’s CEO, was hesitant about using multilevel marketing. “I called up a friend in Dallas who worked at Mary Kay at the time, and asked him how they did this in a way that people looked at them with pride and respect,” Thompson told Inc. in 2010. “He told me, ‘Never sacrifice integrity for growth.’ Since then, we have held that as our mantra.”