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


    Bright Idea: Labor Saver

    Bright Idea: Labor Saver

    Forget email. Shyft Technologies makes shift swapping easy.

    New legislation requiring Seattle businesses with 500 or more employees to schedule workers’ hourly shifts two weeks in advance will be a boon to some, but it could complicate the lives of many workers and employers.

    Seattle startup Shyft Technologies has created a free smartphone app that simplifies the tangled dance of schedule shuffling by making it easier for employees to swap shifts and for bosses to get shifts covered on short notice. 

    The app notifies all staffers automatically when open shifts are posted. Swaps can be approved right on the app. By matching in real time the hours when workers are available with the hours employees need work done, the app creates a more efficient market.

    A worker or manager can easily add a bonus as an incentive to fill a shift on short notice, says

    Shyft CEO Brett Patrontasch. “It’s a lot easier than email,” he observes. Meanwhile, workers can quickly change their availability status if they want to make more money or free up more time.

    The Shyft app uses a combination of geolocation, financial transactions, machine learning and big data analytics to determine availability and pricing. The goal is to create an on-demand workforce that has more control over schedules while providing employers with the fluidity to operate efficiently.

    As of late September, more than 12,000 Starbucks baristas, 3,500 Old Navy staffers and 7,500 McDonald’s employees were using Shyft’s app.

    Founded in Toronto, the startup moved to Seattle in February to participate in the three-month Techstars mentoring program. This past summer, Shyft obtained $1.5 million in funding from Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group and other investors.