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What the... is a Meathead?! Watch now. Top 10 Influential Small Business Thought Leaders

October 16, 2009
Top 10 Influential Small Business Thought Leaders
Friday, October 16, 2009 by Mark Harbeke

You may have seen this week that Forbes published a list of “The Most Influential Business Thinkers.”  On it are the likes of Harvard Business School’s Gary Hamel, Virgin empire-builder Richard Branson, and Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs (who is teenagers’ most admired entrepreneur according to a Junior Achievement survey).

But the Forbes list, which also includes Bill Gates and Malcolm Gladwell, is made up of visionaries that most everyone in the small business community has heard of before.  What I think would be more valuable for these leaders is a list of influential thinkers that are their peers, and who have received less attention by the mainstream business press.

So, based on Winning Workplaces’ research and events that reveal the payoff of employee engagement and team building strategies, I’ve compiled our own Top 10 list.  Check out these small business rock stars if you haven’t already:

1.Andrew Field, President,  Street cred: Created the first and largest online printing company.  If you go to their website and click on About Us you’ll find several videos that show how PFL’s culture of ownership translates to better service, higher sales, and employee retention and community-building in rural Montana.
2.Larry O’Toole, CEO, Gentle Giant Moving Company.  Street cred: Created a $30 million moving and storage business that has carved out a solid territory on the East Coast against stiff competition based on a service model that has inspired the likes of College Hunks Hauling Junk and Meathead Movers.
3.Jan Blittersdorf, CEO, NRG Systems.  Street cred: The employee benefits offered by this Vermont-based wind energy company align with its mission and values, and thus help attract top talent.  They include cash incentives for purchasing hybrid vehicles and energy-efficient home appliances.
4.Paul Silvis, Founder, Restek Corporation.  Street cred: If you’re looking for the story of someone who had the product know-how but had to learn business leadership skills from scratch, Silvis is your guy.  After leading Restek to over $47 million in sales and several mentions on the Inc. 500, he is now heading up a new company, SilcoTek.
5.Diane Hessan, President, Communispace.  Street cred: Hessan is brimming with leadership lessons – see this post from yesterday – after leading her company, which provides online customer communities, back from the brink in 2001.  The firm has been trendsetting when it comes to flex-work and communications team bilding practices.
6.Dev Patnaik, Managing Principal, Jump Associates.  Street cred: On a recent kick of helping companies use the quality of empathy to their strategic advantage, Patnaik could just as easily conduct a master class on small business team building.  From their employee gatherings to their open workspace, this business consultancy exemplifies how best to harness innovation.
7.Trish Karter, CEO, Dancing Deer Baking Company.  Street cred: Dancing Deer is often cited as a model company when it comes to pursuing a double bottom line.  And for good reason: from economic development in their hometown of Boston to using product sales to end family homelessness, few organizations better demonstate that you can do well while doing good in the world.
8.Mike Faith, CEO,  Street cred: Faith’s company, only 11 years old, is a major player in the $2 billion U.S. headsets industry.  In large part this is because their people have taken the Jim Collins approach and do one thing really well: listening.  This includes to employees as much as customers.
9.Graham Weston, Chairman, Rackspace Hosting.  Street cred: The story of Rackspace’s phenomenal growth based on delivering “Fanatical Support” to its customers is even more astonishing when you realize Weston has career roots in the decidedly non-tech space of real estate.  Customer satisfaction is a must in both fields, of course, and Rackspace continues to define it in their industry.
10.Tensie Whelan, Executive Director, The Rainforest Alliance.  Street cred: Whelan leads the only nonprofit on this list, but its an instructive one when it comes to running one like a business, and defining and serving an unmet niche.  They’ve fulfilled their mission and kept turnover low by helping to improve the sustainable practices – and profitability – of brands such as Chiquita.

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