Powerful ideas and personal commitment are what propel industries, companies, and individuals into the future. Every November, Fast Company shines a spotlight on the idea elite of business - the CEOs who make our annual Who's Fast issue. This month, for the second year in a row, the Fast 50 emphasizes in-the-trenches achievement. There are CEOs, but also engineers, marketers, and frontline teams whose passion means the difference between winning and losing.
This year's challenge attracted more than 1,400 entries and 20,000 online comments from people in 30 countries and 45 states. The winners demonstrate the power of persistence, the thrill of invention, the value of values, the rewards of solving problems, and the business of culture.
It's been a brutal few years for business. These champions of innovation show what it takes to build a brighter future.
The Power of Persistence
These founders, CEOs, and presidents are building their companies for the long haul.
| TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
CEO and cofounder, American IronHorse Motorcycle Co.
| AVOID CULTURE SHOCK
President and CEO, Stonyfield Farm Inc.
| MANAGE THROUGH TURBULENCE
President and COO, Southwest Airlines Co.
| MAKE A FAST-GROWING IDEA GROW FASTER
CEO, Upromise Inc.
| GIVE CUSTOMERS MORE OPTIONS
CEO, International Securities Exchange Inc.
| THROW AWAY CONVENTION
Founder and CEO, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?
| CHANGE THE RULES OF THE ROAD
Managing director, Black Circles Ltd.
| BE SURE TO SPREAD THE WORK AROUND
President and COO, Virtual-Agent Services.
| THE BEST COMPANY IS AN OPEN
| ENGAGE WITH A NEW SET OF CUSTOMERS
Founder and CEO, Blue Nile Inc.
The Thrill of Invention
The breakthroughs of these leaders and technologists set new standards of performance.
| PUSH THE RIGHT BUTTONS
Founder, chairman, and CTO, Digit Wireless LLC.
| DEFY GRAVITY
President and CEO, ASV Inc.
| UNCOVER YOUR HIDDEN ASSETS
President and CEO, Vesta Corp.
| GET THE MESSAGE -- INSTANTLY
CEO, IMlogic Inc.
| TURN ORANGE INTO GREEN
Max and Elaine Appel
Cofounders, Orange Glo International.
| PERFECT THE VISION THING
CEO, The MicroOptical Corp.
| MASTER THE NAME GAME
CEO, Language Analysis Systems Inc.
| GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
President and CEO, GE Imatron.
| HELP SMART PEOPLE LEARN
Matthew Pittinsky and Michael Chasen
Cofounders, Blackboard Inc.
| DEVELOP AN ANTI-KILLER APP
Vice president and adviser, MapInfo Corp.
The Value of Values
These leaders made the right moves by doing the right thing.
| KEEP YOUR PROMISES
Executive director and general manager, WAMU 88.5 FM.
| GIVE POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Director, The Democracy Program, The Carter Center.
| CUT FROM A DIFFERENT CLOTH
Global director of sustainability, Nike Apparel.
| CHARGE WHAT PEOPLE CAN BEAR
Executive director, Project Impact Inc.
| MAKE THE NET WORK
The Tomoye team
| MAKE A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
President, IFC Companies.
| GIVE GIRLS A HEAD START
Founder and executive director, Girlstart.
| GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Founder and director of research, FINCA International Inc.
| MAKE LEARNING MEMORABLE
CEO, Little Planet Learning.
| LIGHT THE WAY
Executive director, Creative Time Inc.
The Rewards of Solving Problems
Where most companies saw problems, these innovators saw opportunities -- and created solutions.
| BUILD A BETTER MOUSE
Agilent Labs fellow, Agilent Technologies.
| KEEP ON TICKING
Direct group president, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.
| PHONE HOME
| THINK FAST -- ACT FASTER
The Inova health-care team
Inova Health System.
| CREATE A RESOUNDING DIFFERENCE
Cofounder, president, and CEO, OmniSonics Medical Technologies Inc.
| DON'T FIGHT CITY HALL, INFORM IT
President, Connecticut Policy and Economic Council.
| CHANGE THE SOCIAL FABRIC
CEO, Hi-Tex Inc.
| BE A SECURITY BLANKET
CEO, Foundstone Inc.
| GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
Chairman, board of directors ISCAR Ltd.
| DON'T SWEAT THE COMPETITION
Founder and president, Under Armour Performance Apparel.
The Business of Culture
The most exciting ideas and companies are about style and substance, fashion and functionality.
| UNLEASH YOUR COMMITMENT
President, Planet Dog.
| BLEND STYLE WITH SUBSTANCE
President, Astro Studios Inc.
| LET THE ADVERGAMES BEGIN
President and founder, Templar Studios LLC.
| SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS
Chairman, president, and CEO, Publishing Group of America.
| LIVE AMONG THE NATIVES
Principal anthropologist officer and managing partner, Context-Based Research Group.
| MAKE THE MOVIE THE STAR
Creative director, Fallon Worldwide.
| BE A BAD GIRL
Bad Girl #1, Bad Girl Swirl Inc.
| BUILD A BRAND FOR THE BRAIN
Grand pooh-bah, Cranium.
| TAKE SPORTS TO THE EXTREME
President, Fuse Integrated Sports Marketing.
| GET A GOOD RAP
Editor in chief, Rap-Up.