Great entrepreneurs succeed where others fail because they are nimble and because they stick to a core set of values. Nimbleness is a prized weapon of the entrepreneur because it is the means through which opportunity can be snatched from the entrenched.

Quick action, however, is useless without the steering mechanism of clear and principled values. The staff at Inc. has just witnessed a compelling example of this from the inside. Just over 30 days ago, as I write this, our parent company, Gruner + Jahr, decided to put the magazine up for sale. For reasons I don't have space to go into here, potential buyers had less than five weeks to bid and to complete the transaction. Many larger corporations, well-known individuals, private equity firms, and even a management group jumped at the chance to try to buy Inc.

In the end, however, only one suitor was able to move quickly enough to complete the purchase in what the investment bank that handled the sale thinks may have been a record time. The winner: a quintessential entrepreneur and five-time Inc. 500 honoree named Joe Mansueto. You may recognize this guy. He's appeared on the cover of this magazine (as you can see above—that's the February 1999 issue). In 1984, Joe founded the mutual fund research company Morningstar in his apartment. He built it into a company that went public earlier this year and reported revenue of $53.2 million in its first quarterly report to shareholders. For all his success, however, Joe still follows the same basic business principles: He believes in the power of serving customers and building great brands. In a letter that Inc. employees received today, he put it simply: "Our company should be the kind of innovative, progressive organization that our magazine has always inspired and has helped our readers to create. Believe me, after the turmoil we've been through in the past month, this is music to our ears.

Here's something else I know about Joe. He traces his family roots back to a town in Italy called Montefalcone—"the mountain of the falcon. On the day Joe beat out Time Warner, The Economist Group, and Advance Publications for the chance to own Inc., it did seem as if a falcon had swooped out of the sky and snapped us up. Could there be a more fitting symbol for an Inc. entrepreneur?

Published on: Aug 1, 2005