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Top Secret

What do the leaders of top companies have in common? Learn their secrets.

Jason Jennings sorted through 70,000 American companies to find nine whose consistent growth in profits and revenue put them in the top one-hundredth of 1 percent. After studying each in depth, including interview-ing top leaders, he reports what makes them so special in Think Big Act Small (Portfolio, $24.95).

So what's the most striking commonality among the excellent nine? They all have humble leaders who are willing to get their hands dirty. Jennings points to CEOs of companies like North Carolina's SAS Software and Virginia's Strayer Education Inc., both billion-dollar enterprises where members of the top brass routinely do grunt-level work.

Other shared traits are similarly unexpected. Few of the firms embrace long-term goals, focusing on tasks they can complete in a year or so rather than lock into five-year plans. They quickly and completely sell or close losing products, markets and businesses. They also choose rivals as carefully as customers, so that their own competitive strengths will be leveraged. The best-practices path is a well-worn one for business authors, but Jennings' unconventional findings make his work a worthwhile read.

Alphabet Scoop

Robyn Waters, former vice president of trend, design and product development for Target stores, offers 26 brief trend-spotting how-tos from A to Z in The Trendmaster's Guide (Port-folio, $12.95). "C is for Connect the Dots" suggests that combining myriad small details can reveal future trends. "Yum, Yuk and Yawn" invokes Sony leader Akio Morita's gut-reaction approach to evaluating products: short and sharp.

Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Staff Smarts" columnist.

This story appears in the June 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »