Founded in 1981 by avid cyclists Steve Flagg and Mary Henrickson, who wanted to help bike stores get tough-to-find mountain bike parts from suppliers in Japan, QBP has become the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of bicycle parts and accessories, from helmets and bike racks to crank sets and ball bearings. It also owns seven bike brands, including All-City, Salsa and Surly, a brand favored by urban hipsters. One staffer’s sole responsibility is collaborating with lobbyists and nonprofits to advocate for pro-cycling government policies. QBP’s four warehouses across the country guarantee that almost all of its 5,400 bike-store customers get parts within one day of ordering. Last May it opened an office and warehouse in Taiwan, where its bike brands are manufactured. In 2015 its head count hit 700, including 24 staffers in Taiwan. “We want the world to be bike-ified,” says President Rich Tauer. “We say we want every butt on a bike.”

2.Gainesville Health & Fitness


Gainesville, Fla.

Founder and CEO: Joe Cirulli

Revenue: $16.5 million

Employees: 480

Joe Cirulli has long believed that the ultimate measure of a fitness business should be the health of the community in which it is situated. In the early 2000s he and his management team set a goal of having Gainesville recognized as the healthiest city in America. They proceeded to mobilize the community to achieve it, and in the spring of 2003 Gainesville became the first and only city to receive the gold Well City award from the Wellness Council of America.

Ask those knowledgeable about the international fitness industry to name the best clubs on the planet and Gainesville Health & Fitness will be on the list. Cirulli travels the world giving talks, for example, on why his centers have customer-retention rates almost 30% higher than the industry average and how he hires and trains the staff that makes such performance possible.

Although utterly without financial resources, he managed to scrape together the $1,700 needed to get his club up and running in 1978. Ever since, he has been relentlessly focused on building, expanding, changing, innovating and, above all, improving his company. He has had endless opportunities to build clubs outside Gainesville but has turned them all down. When asked why, he says simply, “I like Gainesville.”

3.Tasty Catering


Elk Grove Village, Ill.

CoFounder and CEO: Tom Walter

Revenue: $10 million

Employees: 90

When an employee recognized that fuel prices were cheapest on Tuesdays and most expensive on Thursdays and Fridays, Tasty Catering changed the way it purchased fuel for its fleet of delivery vehicles and started saving $35,000 a year. That kind of engagement has resulted in profit margins that are nearly double the industry’s national average. Engaging employees, most of whom are recruited from the local community, has also kept turnover below 2% in an industry where the norm is around 50%. Meanwhile, Tasty employees have launched 12 ventures of their own with funding help from the company, including a bakery, a gift company and a creative agency. “I get to sit and watch like a proud father as these companies started by our employees continue to do well and deliver tremendous returns,” says CEO Tom Walter.

4.Big Ass Fans


Lexington, Ky.

CEO and Founder: Carey Smith

Revenue: $202 million

Employees: 835

Founded in 1999, industrial fan producer Big Ass Fans could have sought to sell its high-end (and high-priced) wares through big-box retail channels. Instead, founder Carey Smith chose to avoid them, relying on his own army of salespeople to educate customers. In the past several years the company has expanded from the industrial sector into commercial and now residential markets, offering lighting products as well as smaller, sleeker home fans packed with high-tech sensors that sell for as much as $2,495. Today its residential products represent about 18% of company sales and growing. Big Ass Fans’ creations are now prominent in the factories and warehouses of customers like Target, Whole Foods, Boeing, Coke and Amazon. “Throughout your day,” says Smith, “most of the things you touch have been either manufactured or boxed for distribution under our fans.”




Founder and CEO: Jim Murphy

Revenue: $8.5 million

Employees: 21 full-time, 50 contractors

Afterburner was founded 20 years ago by Jim Murphy, a former Air Force instructor pilot, who says he’s interested only in people with “the warrior ethos.” The company’s specialty is teaching clients how to define and execute a business strategy with a military-inspired approach to teamwork. Although the firm works primarily with large public companies, Afterburner remains small by design. Murphy says that, where large consulting firms often throw teams of people at clients, he prefers to use a “force multiplier” strategy by deploying just two to four consultants. He’d like Afterburner to be a $50 million company one day. For now he’s keeping head count low, partly as a matter of strategy and partly as a matter of preserving the firm’s culture.

6.Blink UX



CoFounder and CEO: Karen Clark Cole

Revenue: $12 million

Employees: 70

Every year as many as two employees who best embody the values of Blink UX are chosen to become partners in the business, a consultancy that advises clients like Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon on ways to improve their digital interaction with customers. While CEO Karen Clark Cole says the equity shares doled out are small, they are meant to show how much employees are appreciated. When the company, which has never had outside investors, hires people, Clark Cole says it tells them, “We want you to retire here.” She is also transparent about finances: “Anybody can find out anything they want to know about the company.” Still, not everyone fits. Clark Cole says, “A disciplined work ethic is key to our culture and if someone isn’t pulling their weight we have to let them go.”

7.Service Express Inc.


Grand Rapids, Mich.

CEO: Ron Alvesteffer

Revenue: $59 million

Employees: 290

When workers join SEI, which does on-site maintenance for companies’ data centers, including repairs, troubleshooting and installations, they meet with a manager to lay out their personal, professional and financial goals. These may include buying a first home, visiting distant parents, attending a child’s Friday football games or relocating to another city. When one employee expressed an interest in living in Nashville, for example, the company opened an office there. Managers meet with workers twice a year to reassess goals and offer support. CEO Ron Alvesteffer says the focus on employees has resulted in a yearly turnover rate of less than 10% and a customer retention rate of 98%. The theory, he says, is simple: “Take great care of your people and they’ll take great care of your clients.”



Heber City, Utah

CEO: Rhett Roberts

Revenue: $65 million

Employees: 320

When a 1958 drought decimated their farm, brothers Milo and Lamar Bosshardt turned to mining the rich salt beneath it. In 1992 the family brought in Rhett Roberts, who repositioned Redmond’s reddish-hued salt as a premium product, emphasizing how it melted at a lower temperature than conventional white salt and boosting efforts to market it as superior for the dinner table. In 1999 Roberts bought the company and became CEO, doing away with titles and instituting a profit-sharing program that divvies up 10% of the firm’s net income among employees. He also opened up the company books, informing all employees about sales and profits.

9.ENT Institute



Founder and CEO: Jeff Gallups

Revenue: $27 million

Employees: 189

ENT Institute is a 17-location medical business in the Atlanta area that attracts doctors from across the country who specialize in treating ear, nose and throat ailments. Founder and CEO Dr. Jeff Gallups says his model allows him to charge less and pay top performers much more than they could earn in a regular private practice: “We have five docs who are making over a million a year.” Unlike most hospitals, ENTI posts prices for its procedures on its website. A tonsillectomy for an adult, for instance, will cost about $2,300, compared with a national average of about $4,000. ENTI can charge less because, unlike a general hospital, it has no moneylosing departments (like an emergency room) to support. Gallups has been buying practices and plans to expand into neighboring states. “I’m not calling them,” he says. “They’re calling me.”

10.New Belgium Brewing


Fort Collins, Colo.

Chairperson and CoFounder: Kim Jordan

Revenue: $225 million (est.)

Employees: 685

Back in 2013 the employees of New Belgium Brewing were called to an all-hands meeting, where Kim Jordan, the company’s cofounder and then CEO , took the stage to deliver big news. She told her employees she had just sold the company, a revelation that produced gasps. To whom? She asked the employees to open the envelopes that had been left on their chairs. Inside they found a mirror, which was Jordan’s way of announcing that she had sold the company to them. Today New Belgium is owned entirely by its employees through a stock-ownership plan and is widely recognized as a case study in progressive management. It is a certified B Corporation and gets high marks for sustainability: Its Fort Collins brewery produces 18% of its electricity on-site, and the company wins lots of awards for its culture.