For an idea of exactly how hot our past Hot 100 finalists are, you need look no further than our 1995 No.1 entrepreneur: Dennis G. McLaughlin III, co-founder of Aurora Natural Gas LLC, a natural gas distribution company now held by A & G Holdings LLC in Dallas. A & G Holdings now has five companies in its control, with $393 million in sales last year.
Through the company he began in 1993 with partners Malcolm Smith and Eric Spomer, McLaughlin has created an empire by his mid-30s-and changed the way the natural gas industry thinks about start-ups and emerging technology. A & G Holdings' technological advances-once scorned by investors-have now spun off Aurion Technologies, which is poised for an IPO this year or the next. And true to form, that is what McLaughlin is most excited about.
A & G Holdings-which is comprised of Western Natural Gas, a retail marketing company selling natural gas in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah; Aurora Productions, an oil and gas production company; Aurora Field Services, a natural-gas gathering and processing company; natural-gas supply aggregator, Aurora Natural Gas; and Aurion-has succeeded in part because of the founders' commitment to innovation. "We concentrate on bringing in younger people to groom them to be managers as well as leaders in the company," says McLaughlin, 34. "That's really critical if you're going to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit. Reward people for taking risks and don't punish failure when the best foot is put forward to succeed."
In June, one of A & G's innovations provided the sweet spot in a $26 million deal to sell off Aurora Northeast, yet another company that emerged from McLaughlin's umbrella. A & G lured the buyer in by offering a seven-year data-collection contract using Aurion's Amnet technology. "[Such interest] showed confirmation of our theories by the marketplace and by larger utility companies," McLaughlin says.
"A software company has to guess what the customer wants, and then build and modify it," continues McLaughlin, who expects A & G to top $500 million in sales this year, "We actually use this stuff to run our business so we know what the market wants."