Despite the extreme challenges business owners have lived through since the world stopped in 2020, the rallying cry attributed to Winston Churchill has never rung more true for the fastest-growing companies in the United States: They don't waste a good crisis. So it's not surprising that when we polled the CEOs of the Inc. 5000 this June, as we do every year, their second-biggest concern was continuing to manage fast growth as they emerged from the pandemic and recession.
Their chief worry? Their people. Managing the crisis took a steep toll on Inc. 5000 honorees because, for this group of entrepreneurs, business is personal -- and it always has been. Thirty-six percent of these founders cited worry for employees' livelihoods as one of the biggest factors in weighing the decision to start their businesses in the first place. "There were a lot of tears," says Jennifer Rotner, founder of Baltimore-based content and publishing services company Elite Creative (No. 2,127), which has a majority-women staff. "There was a lot of pressure put on my employees when schools closed, and every day was an emotional struggle. My role became about offering support and resources to keep everyone going during a very high-growth period for the company."
In many ways, these founders defined the real victories -- and heartbreaking losses -- of the past year by how effectively they could care for their people, and told us they were more likely to cut executive pay or costs in other areas of the business than they were to lay off employees. And while shoring up capabilities like maintaining a supply chain and managing the demands of growth are now top of mind, one of the biggest weights on their shoulders, they said, is knowing their employees are fighting burnout -- and wanting to help them through it. As always, there also remains the task of finding the next great employee. Inc. 5000 honorees cited hiring and retaining solid talent as the biggest obstacle for their businesses going forward. As one survey respondent put it: "I would have said 'finding great talent' three times if you'd allowed that option."
Here's what else is on the minds of the leaders running the fastest-growing companies in the country.