Titans of Tomorrow: Overview


Mention Seattle around the world and people most likely think of Microsoft. Or Starbucks. Or Amazon. On further reflection, they might come up with Nordstrom or Costco. Who else is there? The list is surprisingly scant. There’s Paccar, the truck maker that most consumers haven’t heard of, but whose Kenworth and Peterbilt brands are known globally. There’s Weyerhaeuser, the timber company. And Boeing? Well, it’s certainly an enormous presence here, but the corporate headquarters is in Chicago.

Despite its prominent technology sector and overall entrepreneurial energy, Washington remains underrepresented in the country’s list of large-cap companies for its population. Only eight firms from Washington occupy the S&P 500 (compared with 19 from Minnesota and 15 from Georgia), and only three make the Fortune 100 list. Clearly, there’s room for more.

No one can predict what scrappy startup will rocket to spectacular success, although in the accompanying story (page 34) we offer a few such “gazelles” with the potential to make it big. There also are some big players whose profiles make their chances of surviving in the long term as independent companies more questionable. That group contains companies like Clearwire, which carries debt and will likely be swallowed up by another carrier, and Seattle Genetics, whose success depends on uncertain clinical trials, and Intellectual Ventures, whose business model is not yet proven. We also left many state banks off the list because, while some have seen incredibly healthy growth recently, few seem likely to emerge beyond a regional presence in the coming years.

We identified 10 companies in our state that seem positioned to break out and eventually become tomorrow’s titans. Old-fashioned fundamentals guided our choices. We selected mid-cap companies with valuations around $2 billion. These firms have been around awhile—thus ruling out some glamorous technology companies—and have demonstrated strong, stable management that can adjust to change. In addition, each appears strongly positioned to benefit from shifting currents in its sector, and to grow someday beyond the $10 billion large-cap threshold. Most have a strong national or international presence already. Collectively, they show what it takes to succeed.

Some of the companies such, as Expedia, the travel site, and Expeditors International, the global logistics company, are well on their way to greatness. Others, including Alaska Air Group, the airline company, Concur Technologies, the travel expense software provider, and Saltchuk Resources, the air, land and sea freight services company, we’ve covered recently in these pages. In this case, we’ve chosen to profile five companies that may be lesser known, yet, through steady growth and strong management, have shown the potential to emerge as new anchors for our state’s economy:

F5 Networks: Expanding into New Growth Markets

Symetra: Keeping the Long View

Esterline Technologies: Customer-driven Growth

Coinstar: Innovating a New Sector

Itron: Rising with the Water Line

Emerging Titans: Apptio, Inrix, Tableau Software, Zulily, Valve Corporation


    On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

    On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

    Gamification software from a UW startup makes biz-school case studies more authentic.

    Imagine you’re the CEO of an airline in crisis. Customers and shareholders are unhappy. Your employees have just gone on strike. What do you do? Give in to union demands? Hold your ground and negotiate? Fire all the employees? 

    It’s the first of a cascading set of decisions you must make in The Signature Case Study, a new interactive game developed by Seattle-based Recurrence (recurrenceinc.com) in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST). Players take one of five C-suite roles and each player’s decision changes the options available to the others and affects their total scores based on employee, shareholder and customer satisfaction.

    The Signature Case Study takes the case-study method, a paper-based system pioneered by the Harvard Business School, and uses game techniques to make it more entertaining and accessible while also giving students and teachers immediate feedback on the quality of their decision making.

    Data on 19 variables derived from real airlines on things like lost luggage, fuel costs, stock prices and customer satisfaction are built into algorithms that drive the game and can result in thousands of academically validated outcomes.

    CEO and co-inventor Brayden Olson named the company after Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, the notion that all life will repeat itself through eternity. The interactive case study, he says, allows people to learn from mistakes and develop critical thinking skills that improve their judgment so they won’t make similar mistakes in real life.

    While traditional case studies depend heavily on the skills of professors to engage students, The Signature Game Study’s software uses game elements to require interactivity, says co-inventor Bruce Avolio, a professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business and executive director of CLST.

    The game shows players how decisions made early on can narrow their course of action down the road. They also learn the importance of teamwork to overcome the toughest challenges. “Great games can be both more fun and more challenging,” says Avolio, who sits on Recurrence’s board of directors.

    The product, released early this year, has already been adopted at more than 30 schools, including the UW, Stanford, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, to teach leadership, organizational behavior and strategy. The cases sell for $47.50 per student; Recurrence is looking to add cases in areas such as operations, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also working with the University of Alabama nursing school to develop a case study to teach such skills as diagnosis and health care management.

    With more than 15,000 business schools in the world, Olson says the market is huge. He notes that publishers of printed case studies are selling 12 million a year, but they recognize that the interactive case study is the future and are looking for Recurrence’s assistance in developing them.