Smokin'

Huron Consulting and Fortinet

#1 Huron Consulting Group

Looking out the window of his Chicago office in early 2002, Gary Holdren spied the name Huron on a street sign. He was looking for a name for his new financial and operational consulting services business and thinking, "let's not get too complicated; let's make it real easy," recalls Holdren, 55--and thus Huron Consulting Group was born.

Holdren, a former Arthur Andersen employee, launched Huron with his former colleagues in tow during the post-Enron scandal days of 2002. It was a challenging summer, even after securing over $100 million in equity commitment: "The phones were not ringing," Holdren says. "We were making a lot of calls but not getting a lot of business."

Just before Labor Day 2002, however, Huron scored its first big coup--the contract to consult for the United Airlines bankruptcy. Using their previous contacts with United Airlines' management and proving they had the experience it took to provide the service, Holdren and his team sealed the deal.

The United deal boosted Huron's profile with the media and the consulting community alike. "From that point on, things started clicking for us, and people started having confidence in us," says Holdren. "Large clients started calling us, and we [began to] grow faster than anticipated."

Fast is an understatement: Huron went from $35 million in 2002 revenue to projected 2005 revenue between $183 million and $187 million. Watching the company grow from 213 employees at startup to over 600 employees today, Holdren can remember when they were hiring almost an employee a day. The key to facilitating that astounding growth, he says, was hiring the best people in his HR and training departments. "We were always hiring overqualified people for the size of our organization," he says. "Our [head of HR] was world-class at designing training processes and programs, and [implemented systems] for our 500-person company just as good as those I'd seen for 80,000-person organizations."

It's the employees, in fact, whom Holdren continually credits with Huron's astronomical rise. "[We were] blessed. At the right place and at the right time, someone gave us [our first] break, the market conditions changed--you just add it all up," says Holdren. "But had all those things been there and had we not had good people, we wouldn't have succeeded." --Nichole L. Torres

#5 Fortinet Inc.

While viruses and spyware can mean disaster for the common computer user, they can signify unlimited profits and potential for tech companies that have made network security their specialty, like Sunnyvale, California-based Fortinet Inc. Fortinet's innovative products, such as the FortiGate series of ASIC-accelerated anti-virus firewalls, have won the company awards and have secured Fortinet's place on this year's Hot 100 list.

But profits and accolades don't come without hard work and risk. Brothers Ken and Michael Xie, 42 and 36, respectively, founded Fortinet in 2000 knowing the key to success in their competitive market was having superior products. Devoting two years to R&D, their goal was to produce a technology that would be effective in both securing network content and allowing consumers to use the internet safely and without delays. Once they launched their initial FortiGate products in May 2002, they concentrated on building channel networks, securing financing and expanding product lines.

Fortinet has grown rapidly, due in part to the $93 million in venture capital it's received along the way. With 2005 projected sales of $100 million, the company has become a global village of 550 employees with offices in Asia, Canada and Europe as well as the United States. And while fast growth has its challenges, such as staffing adequately to keep up with demand and constantly advancing their technology, the Xies haven't skipped a beat. The strength of the team has proved invaluable, as has Ken's previous experience as founder and CEO of NetScreen, which internet infrastructure solutions provider Juniper Networks bought for $4 billion in 2004. What contributed to Fortinet's success? "Hiring a strong group of talented employees who brought and applied direct industry experience and relationships," says Ken.

Fortinet has made itself right at home in the fast lane. A 2003 IDC study found that Fortinet held 29.5 percent of the unified threat management security market and was growing strong. And Ken says going public is in the company's future. Meanwhile, the brothers remain focused on innovation in the areas of web content filtering, spyware and anti-spam technology. Says Ken, "Going forward, the internet is changing so fast that we have to stay very close to the customer and all the new technology." --Sara Wilson

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This article was originally published in the June 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Smokin'.

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