Let's face it: all those neglected niches out there need someone with your qualities--an intolerance of mediocrity and an overload of intuition and energy--to transform them into lucrative opportunities. Except, that is, if you hope to make the Inc. 500. By now it should be clear that fast-growing companies require a unique set of skills. What are they? Find out by answering these simple questions:

1. Is there one product or service you really feel passionate about?
Three words of advice: get over it. As attached as he may have become to roofing or health food, Cameron Kuhn contends that it was the fact that "starting something new jazzes me" that finally earned him a place on the Inc. 500. Enviro-Check (#268) is the 17th company he's begun. "I don't go into things I don't like," says Kuhn.

2. Have you studied the works of the management gurus?
If the names Peters and Hammer mean something to you, then here's hoping your local Man in Black won't mind lending you his neuralyzer. Any memory of excellent traits or effective habits will only confuse matters. "You have to invest your own intellectual time into something to get results," insists Brian Westcott, president of Westt Inc. (#34). "I don't buy into the five-minute sound bite."

3. Would you describe yourself as creative and spontaneous?
Perfect--if you're planning a career in improvisational comedy. Fast-growing companies look like mayhem from the outside, but the folks who manage them tend to be masters at handling complexity. Bruce Juhola, CEO of Microbar (#310), planned his entry into entrepreneurship for a couple of years. He looked at 50 opportunities, considered only a half dozen seriously, and then settled on making equipment for semiconductor manufacturing. "The others didn't meet my criteria," he says.

4. How extensively have you trained in the industry you're targeting?
If you want to start a restaurant, work as a busboy first. To prepare himself for the telecommunications industry, Graham Sampson worked as ... a used-car salesman. "I was successful in the sleaziest business in the world because I was always true to my word," brags the CEO of ECI Conference Call Services (#344). Robert Garrison made a similarly unusual switch: before starting systems integrator Accent Systems (#237), he was a lighting-fixture salesman with a hunch.

5. Are you an "idea person"?
Well, then, here's what you should do: sell the best idea to an entrepreneur. Kathy Myers met creativity guru Edward de Bono in 1985. It took six years before he agreed to let her start Advanced Practical Thinking Training (#353), which offers training in his ideas. "A lot of people talk big and nothing happens," says de Bono. "But once Midwesterners sink their teeth into something, they won't let go." De Bono has visited the Des Moines - based company only once. Still, notes Myers, "we feel strongly attached to him."

Published on: Oct 15, 1997