What Lies Beneath

Scratch the surface of these new entrants to the B.E. 100s list and you'll find smart planning, successful growth strategies, and a strong commitment to quality

2003, including a $7 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services for program management support, as well as a $3.3 million contract to support its TRICARE online portal. Ninety-seven percent of Axiom’s clients opt to renew their contracts with the company.

But while acquisitions are key to helping the firm stay profitable, Hankins attributes his company’s success to two other factors: his business partners and his employees. “Picking your business partners is almost as important as picking your spouse,” he says. “They’ve been relationships I treasure. We do good work together.”

In order to continue that success, Hankins says it’s important to invest in his employees. The company recently created the Axiom M.B.A. “One of the things that we recognize, as we continue to grow, is that we have to have succession planning; we have to build the next generation of leadership,” he says. Hankins, along with his Executive Vice President and CFO Kevin Riley and his Executive Vice President and COO A. Douglas Peardon, created the company’s intensive, year-long M.B.A. program, tailoring it to the firm and the services it provides. They select the literature and teach the program’s courses in accounting, finance, and ethics, among other topics. Axiom provides all of the books and materials for the program, but “from my perspective, it’s a fairly negligible cost when you consider what we’re trying to do,” says Hankins.

Axiom actively supports charities such as Christmas in April and other altruistic organizations. Says Hankins, “[We try] to balance the realities of business with the needs of our larger community. On one hand, we make a fair profit by providing great support for our clients. On the other hand, we’re very proud of our corporate citizenship, helping neighbors in need. It’s a balancing act, but I think we’ve got it about right.”

ON A SLOW ROLL
When you look at your car, what do you see? No doubt you see polished chrome and gleaming glass — the exposed metal. But look underneath at the unexposed metal. At the chassis, brake work, and component parts. Not quite as pretty is it? Maybe not, but all of that metal, the exposed and the unexposed, is the essence of Taylor’s Warren, Michigan-based SET Enterprises, a metal processing and assembly company (No. 24 on the BE 100S INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE list with $161 million in revenues).

After 22 years at General Motors, Taylor, 55, launched SET in 1989. (Back then it was called SET Steel Inc.) “The entrepreneurial bug really bit me after I had been at GM about 15 years,” says the company chairman and CEO. “But it took me time to really get a grip on which direction I wanted to go.” After doing his research and “dialoguing with folks on the outside” to see where the opportunities were, Taylor headed out. He cashed in his GM stock, which was worth about $250,000, and started SET. “I had a good business plan and I had the financing,” he says. Plus, when he was at GM, he had the

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