Lessons From the Fast 50 Winners

Five key lessons from this year's 50 winners.

The Art of the Turnaround

Some of our Fast 50 winners executed remarkable business turnarounds. How did they do it? It boils down to keeping the good stuff and throwing out the bad. Sounds simple, but the impulse all too often is to throw everything out. William Nuti at Symbol Technologies took over a product that he liked, but he had to gut the culture that had produced accounting irregularities. Mark Dwight at Timbuk2 had to dump consensus-driven management to unclog the company and bring it back from the brink of collapse.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Camping mugs, online photo sharing, inkjet and laser printers, mattress tops, fire logs — all of them are humble, take-for-granted things, and most of us grudgingly accept their failings. Our Fast 50 winners who rethought each one of those products or services in 2004 took nothing for granted and turned foibles into fiscal opportunities. "There has to be a better way" is the mantra of the fast.

Break up a Big Climb

Your boss throws an impossible assignment on your desk. What do you do? Break it down, mark each milestone, keep plugging away, and look for help. Cisco's Tony Bates, who built the world's largest router system, told his team they were climbing Mount Everest. Each milestone was another base camp and a reason to celebrate their progress. Greg Schmergel at Nantero kept filtering and filtering his nanotubes, removing impurities — and checking his progress daily — until they were clean enough for semiconductor manufacturing.

The Residue of Design

We've said it before, we'll say it again: Don't underestimate the power of design. John Christakos's Blu Dot strives to make furniture stylish and affordable for the chain-store masses. Dicky Riegel reimagined the classic mid-20th-century form of Airstream trailers for a tech-savvy audience. And futurist Andrew Zolli and Old Navy's Jenna Whitney integrate design into their teaching materials.

Seize the Day

Many of our winners frankly stumbled into their big opportunities. But they took action to transform happenstance into something larger. Ad man Larry Woodard's chance encounter led to the biggest marketing event of 2004. MasterCard's Sergio Pinon's getting ripped off led to the most aggressive campaign against Web scammers to date.

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