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Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
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Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  4,361 ratings  ·  238 reviews
The bestselling, award-winning classic on how maverick companies have passed up the growth treadmill to focus on gretness, now in a revised and updated tenth-anniversary edition.
It has long been a business article of faith that great companies, by definition, constantly focus on maximizing their revenues year after year. Yet quietly, under the radar, a growing number of u
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Portfolio (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,361 ratings  ·  238 reviews

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Mar 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a profile of 14 companies that chose to focus on being great at what they do rather than on growing their company in size despite many opportunities to do so.

The author finds several links between them:
1) The owners realized they had a choice of what kind of company they would be and didn't just settle on following normal understanding of what kind of growth a company should aim for
2) They overcame pressure to give up control of their company to investors for the sake of growth
3) They w
Jurgen Appelo
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: startups, scale-ups
Too much story, too little message.
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Once in awhile you read a book and feel an immediate connection to it / the stories within. I read this several years ago, at a time when we were struggling to find business advice that felt like it fit the way we wanted to run a business. And lo and behold, it turns out that there are companies out there running profitable, successful businesses differently than most conventional wisdom might counsel. This book, and the Small Giants movement gaining momentum around it (see http://smallgiants.or ...more
Beth Oppenlander
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
What I liked best about the book was how well the author captured the spirit of the small business owners. He narrates their stories with compassion, keen insight and honesty. While I don't know that I experienced any great revelations as I shared in their journeys, I did find myself really wanting to experience directly some of their adventures. I don't think I can extend a greater compliment than saying, “After reading the book, I want to go out there and play a role in shaping a small giant.” ...more
Alex Ikonn
One of the best business books with case studies on how you can build a long term purposeful business and not just wanting to exit.
Feb 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: business, non-fiction
I bought this because it was on a clearance shelf and I actually started reading it simply because it was within reach when I was looking for a book to help me fall asleep...needless to say, I dove in without any expectations. But this was actually a decent, quick read. It describes a handful of businesses that opted to stay small rather than following the traditional path of expansion, and have consequently found success. I like the personalization that it offers in the detailing of the compani ...more
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book, first 'business' book that I've really bonded with - a survey of innovative businesses across the U.S. that have chosen to conduct their bizzes with heart, 'mojo', care for their community, customers, and employees while being consistently profitable as well as have longevity. The survey includes: clif bar, a machine shop, fashion designer, document storage, AnchorSsteam brewing, Danny Meyer's restaurants in NYC, & Zingerman's Deli in Michigan. So glad that I found this gem on m ...more
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I don't typically read business books, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. The idea that a company can exist for a purpose other than just making the most money possible is very appealing to me. I found the companies in this book inspiring and it made me think a lot about how I approach my job and the company I work for. It was at times a little too lengthy/detailed, but overall a great read. ...more
May 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
I love the concept. When I think of the company I will start some day, that's what I imagine. The material, from 2005, feels oddly dated. Perhaps that's because I work in tech and am constantly reading about business models in technology and software. The book reads a bit like "the age before the Internet". ...more
Yuri Karabatov
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: process
The book is a look behind the scenes of several very different companies which declined to grow beyond a certain size and focused on founders and employees instead.

In the end, it’s all about the people: companies are very much a reflection of their management and workers. Each company’s story is different, but they all managed to make the people and the humanity shine through. You can hide behind a corporate persona, or you can make a human connection.
Ganesh Muthupalani
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have worked on a fair number of business cases the past few weeks. A no. of companies I worked on set their main objective to be the no. 1 player in their industry. I also came across companies driven by purpose, like Ant Financial which envisions to bring equal opportunities to everyone in the world, not just the rich.

I have been wondering for sometime "Why must companies grow to become the market leader? Why must management seek to grow revenues by X% year on year?". Shareholders expect ret
Ivo Spigel
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is such a great book, debunking the myth of forever trying to create giant companies ("growth at all costs") and showing how staying small - but great - can be a very worthwhile decision. But you have to make that decision in spite of the "bigness" hype.
One of my favourite parts - I think it's at the beginning - is when the author compares entrepreneurs to artists. You start with nothing - only a business plan or an empty canvas or a blank Word page - and create something out of that nothin
Tadej Krašovec
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business
What to say about this book with catchy title? It is true, it's well written. But, that is about it. I always ask myself when I finish a book: What have I learned and what of it can I apply to my business or private life?
In this case unfortunately answer is not a lot if anything.
I would not read this book if I knew the content. Consequently only 2 stars.
Andy Hayes
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed the stories about these companies. Missed this when it came out, but I'm now curious how those companies are doing many years later. Anyway, it's a great reminder that company founders need to decide what kind of company they want, and do that unapologetically. ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
I’ve never read a book quite like Small Giants. Most books, like John Maxwell books, are written with the chapters using the following format:

-Three keys to the principal
-Quote from famous person
-Summary of Principal

Small Giants takes a completely different format. It’s 100% story. All anecdotes and case studies in an engaging narrative format. That said, it’s difficult to extract clear principles from each chapter when you don’t have a framework for which each chapter is writ
Lisa Woodruff
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
Watch my full YouTube video review here:

Bo Burlingham

The July book reviews are books that discuss the nuts and bolts of building a business. I also share some of the mentors I have chosen as I grow my own small business. Some of the books are from other business founders. Also check out the final Monday of every month when I share books from female business founders.

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham is my favorite busin
Rohan R
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I found the book to be a bit dated. And considering that it was published in 2005, it is. However, it sheds a very generous light on small businesses that choose to stay small (er than their full potential might achieve), but find meaning in other ways, be it by giving back to society or being a good employer.

It got a bit tough to read towards the end. The small font in the version I have didn't help either.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was looking for a book about this exact topic and it delivered. My rating is because it resonated with me. I would take a good working environment over growth any day. Glad this version had an updated couple of chapters since it was originally from 2005. Honest about some of the companies not making it 10 years later.
Ope Bukola
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book profiles companies that choose to remain "small giants." The companies vary widely, from 1 person shops to hundreds of employees but all share what the author refers to as "mojo." The overarching theme is that that these companies have a deep sense of intimacy, and their founders feel deeply connected to employees and local community. The flip slide is that they must remain financially independent so that they can do things that don't result in shareholder financial value. In our curren ...more
Eric Lee
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book made me reflect on startups, and recognize that bigger is not always better, but quality and greatness can be achieved without need for scale.

Gave me the perspective that I don't need to be big to be great.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it liked it
some good nuggets in here / anecdotes

-zingermans and union square cafe restaurant group

-high emphasis at the end of importantness of happiness and enjoying your job over high growth
Darryl Dash
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good book on companies that choose to stay small and remarkable when they could have grown large.
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. What an excellent perspective on what it takes to be a great business.
Navdeep Sinver
The main idea that this book revolves around is something new and one doesn't come across it that often. Some really good case studies as well. For the number of pages you consume, It has comparatively less content and too much story. ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I think I learned some useful things from other's experience and I am inspired to follow their example. It also showed me how little did I know about the struggles of becoming a great company. ...more
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this for work. I work for a small company transitioning from green energy venture capital to an energy services operating company. We spend a lot of time talking about "company culture" and "mojo." Thanks to Small Giants, I now understand the terms better, but I still don't understand why we have to spend so much time talking about it. I understand being intentional, but I had always thought that businesses - like every other endeavor/creation - is the product of many small decisions appl ...more
Yevgeniy Brikman
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Most business books focus on huge, public companies, or companies striving to become big and public. Most business strategy is all about growing as big as possible, as quickly as possible. Anything less than that is considered a failure. "Small Giants" is a refreshing read about companies that have chosen a different path: companies that, despite being financially successful and well respected in their industry, have chosen to remain relatively small, and instead focus on becoming great at what ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Bo Burlingham offers an attractive handful of examples of small successful companies, along with their stories, culture and way of working.

Compared to large companies, the small companies described appear in a romantic light.

This happens due to the leaders' motivation towards more than financial gain, and rather towards:
- the personal growth and wellbeing of employees
- a quality product
- flexibility, comfort and peace of mind with running a tight, manageable business

It is important to be noted
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you see that it took me nearly 5 months to read all 221 pages of this slim book, you might think I found it boring, or dense, or inaccessible. And while that seems a reasonable conclusion, you would be completely wrong. This is simply the most interesting and thought provoking business book I have read. Rather than struggling my way forward, I found myself connecting with the observations from and about these "small giants" and rapidly taking notes and enjoying extended flights of imagination ...more
John Kowalczyk
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
You know all those fabulous restaurants, excellent delis, exceptional book stores and every other great establishment you've continued to patronize loyally year after year? Well, this book is about them and celebrates why they are still great without becoming HUGE companies. When it seems everyone is shooting for a quick startup followed by unsustainable growth and quick buy-out before they go bankrupt, it's good to know that great people with great ideas are still working hard to give us someth ...more
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“Success means you’re going to have better problems. I’m very happy with the problems I have now.” 3 likes
“The shareholders who own the businesses in this book have other, nonfinancial priorities in addition to their financial objectives. Not that they don’t want to earn a good return on their investment, but it’s not their only goal, or even necessarily their paramount goal. They’re also interested in being great at what they do, creating a great place to work, providing great service to customers, having great relationships with their suppliers, making great contributions to the communities they live and work in, and finding great ways to lead their lives. They’ve learned, moreover, that to excel in all those things, they have to keep ownership and control inside the company and, in many cases, place significant limits on how much and how fast they grow. The wealth they’ve created, though substantial, has been a byproduct of success in these other areas. I call them small giants.” 2 likes
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