What it takes to build a truly great company

Inc.'s editor, Jane Berentson, explores how editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan wrote February's feature on what it takes to build one of the best-run companies in America.

It's appropriate that Leigh Buchanan, our editor-at-large in Boston, wrote this month's feature on what it takes to build a truly great company. Leigh herself is wonderful company—witty, sharp as a tack, an invaluable observer of what is great, what is merely good, and what is mediocre in the world of entrepreneurship.

Recently, Leigh became interested in companies that enter contests as a way to get constructive feedback, and someone suggested she go right to the top: the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Leigh knew about the Baldrige, but she had associated it with large corporations such as Ritz-Carlton and Motorola. A little investigation revealed that smaller companies are now gunning for, and winning, the award. Leigh attended a Baldrige conference, at which the CEOs of small to midsize businesses enthused about how chasing the Baldrige had improved their companies. "I can tell you the next CEO of this company will be a great fan of Baldrige," one speaker told the audience, to loud applause, "or he will not be the next CEO of this company."

The hunt soon led her to Larry Potterfield, founder and CEO of MidwayUSA and possibly the biggest Baldrige fan anywhere. Midway won a Baldrige in 2009, and Potterfield says matter of factly that he intends to make Midway the best-run company in America. How? More Baldrige.

Winning a Baldrige is hard. When I asked Leigh if we could run a sidebar listing the competition's criteria, she advised me that there are roughly 250 questions, covering topics as diverse as how applicants set vision and values and how they recover after disasters. In her story, which begins on page 72, she chronicles Midway's quest to become an operational paragon.

Midway, a family business in Columbia, Missouri, has been selling shooting and gunsmithing supplies since 1977. That will be good news to Inc. readers like Paul Rowney, CEO of Forum Networking Events, who recently wrote to tell me the magazine covers too many young tech start-ups and too few companies in the mainstream of American business. I hope Paul will also like our cover story on GoPro, a booming camera business that began when a California surfer wanted some kind of device that would allow him and his friends to take action shots from their boards. That story starts on page 52.

These stories, and others in the magazine, show the many paths entrepreneurs take to success. Showing that range is a big part of Inc.'s mission. We hope it helps you with yours.

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