Inc.'s start-up all-stars

You'd think we'd be a little defensive about this, offer a disclaimer maybe, talk about how hard it all was, perhaps even apologize to the able and inspired company builders we're leaving out.

Not a chance. What we have here is, without doubt and beyond question, the management team of our decade-long dreams -- the ideal people, position by position, to lead the perfect fantasy start-up. So bet the ranch. Bet the kids. Heck, bet the record collection. We're ready. These are the guys.

(Did we say "guys"? Regrettably. We expect a different outcome next time.)

The ground rules for our picks were simple and few: (1) they had to come from somewhere in our pages over the past 10 years; and (2) because the company we'd start is in an unspecified business, we had to rely on functional skill, not industry knowledge.

Did we bring a bias? Sure. We like the combustive rub of not-always-varnished ego. We lean toward the lean, the decentralized, the innovative, the swift. We favor the hungry. (Some of our people don't even have jobs.)

For the most part, these aren't our most famous alums, but it doesn't matter. They're flawed, but it's OK. Put them in this lineup, and it works. Put them in a room, and things will happen. We're sure. It's our team. Beat it.


51, founder/CEO, International Data Group, Framingham, Mass., a market-research provider and publisher of more than 100 trade magazines related to information technology

First, there's "the vision thing." Saw technology's future early (the 1960s); went overseas early (1973, when IDG did just $6 million in sales); understood the power of decentralization early (from the start has tried to keep autonomous IDG business units to 50 employees each). Runs a $383-million, 65-unit, international corporation with headquarters staff of 15. Knows start-ups cold -- grows by launching them constantly within his own company. Craves customer contact, responsiveness, speed; launched one IDG publication in just three days.

More than any other CEO around, McGovern gets it: preach the mission, provide information, give folks plenty of rope -- then get out of the way. Exercises control with finance, research (an ingenious system of customer and employee surveys), and power of personality.

Another thing: has as much fun on the job as anybody we know. We like that.


40, cofounder/CEO, Springfield Remanufacturing Center Corp. (SRC), Springfield, Mo., a $40-million former division of International Harvester

A revolutionary, nothing less. We don't know whether he can find markets and create companies to cater to them, but it doesn't matter -- he's already the ideal number two. Nobody in the country knows better how to engage a work force in the task at hand.

Does it by taking all the fluff out of participatory management and turning employees at every level into businesspeople. At SRC, it's capitalism as Game. Everyone knows numbers; everyone shares rewards; everyone learns to make each decision based on how it will affect the score. Has created an operating system so sensible it can almost function on its own (see "My Favorite Company," April 1989, [Article link]).

In style, is straightforward, pragmatic, self-effacing. Enough ego to be fast and decisive, but not so much so that his managers can't move. Mr. Inside to McGovern's Mr. Outside -- the perfect complement.


47, founder/CEO, Paychex Inc., Rochester, N.Y., a former Inc. 500 payroll processor and now a national, $79-million-a-year, publicly traded company

Actually likes running a public company, working The Street -- "You gotta have fun, and this game is fun!" Highly credible there; his understanding of the market's needs and anxieties has helped propel his own company's shares to a multiple of 30. Knows other routes to capitalization, too, especially for early-stage expansion. Has grown own business by leveraging the equity of joint-venture partners, franchisees, and private investors.

Quick, indefatigable (not a word he'd use), a little salty. Also pugnacious -- an attractive quality in a CFO.


47, founder/former CEO, People Express Airlines Inc. (which has since been swallowed by Texas Air Corp.)

From the category Tanned, Rested, and Ready, Burr's our man. Has had some stormy weather since People's demise, but no one's rivaled his gift for challenging convention, for questioning every assumption about how people are managed and why they work in the first place. Why quibble about his overall operational discipline? Other folks here can take care of that. For human-resources innovation, he remains the grail. We'll take his gifts of leadership and imagination -- not to mention his fight.


39, founder, The Boston Beer Co., Boston, brewer of Samuel Adams and Lightship, three-time winner of Best Beer in America at the Great American Beer Festival; former management consultant, The Boston Consulting Group

A marketer who gets his hands dirty. A PR wizard who knows it's selling that counts, and it's product quality that sells. Impassioned about keeping close to customers; sticks close to them himself. A guy who's sold American beer to the Germans. A consulting refugee who's discovered the truth -- and who's more committed than a convert?

VP/R & D

34, founder/president/chairman, NeXT Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.; cofounder/former chairman, Apple Computer Inc.; Inc. 's Entrepreneur of the Decade

Seem odd to put our Entrepreneur of the Decade in the research-and-development slot? (See interview, April 1989, [Article link].) Not to us. What we like is Jobs's uncanny ability to see and imagine the future a couple of steps ahead of the rest of us. Not a technology genius himself, but the kind of visionary that geniuses love to work for. Time and again over the past decade, has shown he understands where product and market meet. Would challenge entire management team.

Is anyone better at inspiring people to dream?


58, founder/chairman, Perot Systems Corp., Vienna, Va.; founder/former CEO, Electronic Data Systems Corp.; Inc. 's 1988 Hottest Entrepreneur in America

Not your typical financier. Built his own company, knows what it takes, can empathize. Fierce, tough, demanding, fair -- like our managers. And do pockets come any deeper?

Even if he runs through his apparently unlimited sources of money, he could probably get some more out of GM.


43, founder/chairman, Smith & Hawken, Mill Valley, Calif.; author, The Next Economy and Growing a Business ; TV host and business speaker

In some quarters Hawken's name inspires reservations, but if his companies have been tempestuous, they have also been among the most innovative. He's the smartest, wisest, most instinctively insightful businessperson we know. Hard to work with? Maybe, but we don't care. Combines intellectual theory and practical skill. A strategist. Consistently provides the best, most original, least predictable thinking we've seen. We want him around.


53, founder/president, Quad/Graphics Inc., Pewaukee, Wis., a $350-million-a-year printing and technology company

Another guy some claim can be tough to work with. Another guy we badly want on our board. Has created a startlingly innovative, dynamic company in the midst of a notoriously hidebound industry. A fanatical decentralizer. Brilliant at extending company culture all the way to the shop floor. His company makes his canons -- ready, fire, aim; think small; never do business with someone you don't like -- make sense. Practical, daring, wise.


41, cofounder/chairman, Mrs. Fields Cookies, Park City, Utah

If we had an MIS guru, it would be Fields. Understands better than anyone else how technology can change the way companies are managed; has made it work at his own company. Has used technology to remove the rote work of running a business, to strip away management layers that usually intervene between stores and headquarters, to bring hundreds of store managers into almost direct contact with the CEO. Stretches the founder's vision.


45, chairman, Delphi Partners Ltd., Atlanta; founder/former CEO, American Photo Group Corp. (since sold to Eastman Kodak Co.), Atlanta, #1 on the 1987 Inc. 500

Has all-around business acumen, born of experience and aptitude. Has started several successful companies, excelled inside big companies and small. Active as financier, developer of own start-ups. Low-key, but immensely confident. Is even -- dare we say it? -- someone we'd like to work beside.

We want him on our board.


62, consultant, author, speaker, member of several corporate boards; retired four-star air force general

A military man? Absolutely. A tremendous motivator, leader, challenger of convention. Turned around the Tactical Air Command by bringing decentralization and a sense of employee ownership to the most centralized bureaucracy in the country. Articulate, strong-willed, demonstrates ego that hasn't run amok -- unusual for a former fighter pilot, we're told.

Dedicated to pushing down authority, creating leaders. The sort of hands-on type we like.