Fleet Feet

atlanta skyscrapers“We’ve been fortunate two or three times in being in the right place at the right time,” acknowledges Mark C. Layton, CEO of PFSweb Inc., No. 4 on the Deloitte & Touche list.

Even so, the provider of Internet outsourcing services to IBM, Lancôme and others has worked hard to stay focused. “We spent a lot of time being certain we had a handle on what our core competencies are,” he says of the company that began as a subsidiary of Daisytek International Corp.

Another strategy has been to maintain an “entrepreneurial fleetness of foot over time.” This approach has served the young company well during the “two blows” of the past two years, Layton says: the dot-com bust and the recession.

“PFSweb went from a new business pipeline abundantly full of opportunities to one much smaller by the end of 2000 when the technology market began to slow,” Layton says. “Our fiscal year 2001 revenues declined to $50.4 million as a result of the company converting all contracts to service fee arrangements and the separation from our parent company.”

Since then, PFSweb has “restructured our business model and returned our marketing and sales focus” to reach clients in the Fortune 500 and vertical industries such as consumer goods, Layton says.

Deloitte’s Evans says other common traits of the Fast 500 are an “incredibly strong sense of teamwork,” supported by leaders that “hire bright people, and then work hard to take care of them.” That probably makes sense to Layton, who notes that “as an executive in a leadership position, you need to be saying, ‘Hey, I want to hear your ideas.’”

“Ideas are wonderful,” says InfoSpace’s Jain, “almost everybody has one. But the key trick is who executes it.” Jain says a successful enterprise requires a leader who can bring “passionate energy” to the team, and who also is open to change when it is required. “While you believe in an idea or a vision, you don’t want to be married to it,” he cautions.

Passion and an open mind are two qualities that will continue to benefit companies – whether or not they are on the Fast 500 – as they chart a course through today’s tricky economy.

Evans already has noticed a change in the mentality of recent Fast 500 companies. Three years ago, during the go-go dot-com economy, their top goals usually were to maximize revenue and market growth.

Today, he says, the focus is on profitability. And, because of the dot-com bubble burst, he forecasts the next Fast 500 will contain fewer Internet companies and more biotechnology concerns.

Even so, Evans maintains opportunities still exist for an entrepreneur armed with courage, a good idea and business sense: “If you are willing to go into a new market and be a pioneer, you’ll catch a few arrows, but you’ll also have an opportunity for substantial growth.”