A must-read book for every business

In a new feature for our magazine, we’re taking a regular look at the books that have made a difference, made us think differently or guided the decisions of the reader in some way.

Our first outing is a favourite book of David Ricketts, Head of Marketing here at Quiss and a confirmed bibliophile, who is reviewing Small Giants by Bo Burlingham.

Small Giants

This is a fantastic book which really slams home the fact that you don’t have to be constantly expanding to have a great deal of success. Small giants are businesses that have deliberately chosen not to chase growth and profits, but instead have stayed true to their ideals.

They’re passionate about what they do and focused on doing it extremely well; following this little-trodden path has made them very successful. Some of the key ideas within the book are listed below:

Key idea 1 – Growth can make you unhappy

Most CEO’s today know the feeling of being interviewed where the focus is based around growth, they always end up chasing quarter on quarter growth, making decisions for short term gain over long term success.

There is however another way. It’s what Burlingham calls ‘Small Giants’. These are businesses that have at some point put quality before growth, deciding not to expand for the sake of expanding.

The book highlights the case of W L Butler Construction, which grew to 129 employees and revenues in excess of $20 million, but owner Bill Butler found himself unhappy.

Bill felt that he no longer knew all his employees, so he did a remarkable thing, he narrowed his clients from 25 to 10, letting go of his largest client that accounted for 50% of the company’s revenue.

But staying small had some real advantages.

The small workforce meant that the workforce new each other and help drive a positive culture around pride in their work. This allows them to immediately see the impact their efforts have on the business and their clients.

Smaller companies usually have a nicer atmosphere which tends to have a knock-on effect of better overall customer service, which delivers further value for the company, and as in the case of Bill the owner tends to know all the clients personally.

Key idea 2 – Control and passion

The first key idea about happiness, is rooted in the concern that the owner of the business is losing control. Most business owners like to retain ownership in the hands of as few individuals as possible, but growth usually means outside influences affecting decisions, often in the form of external investors, brought in to fund the growth.

Most of the Small Giants mentioned do not have outside investment. The owners tend to be passionate about their business and put quality ahead of profit.

Key idea 3 – Where there is soul there is quality

The faceless corporation is a term that is commonly used. Employees end up feeling like cogs in a machine, under-appreciated and poorly motivated. In Small Giants this is not the case, but the question is Why?

Well in the book, all the businesses mentioned had a soul. The culture had been developed early on, which meant that they focused on quality, motivating employees and making the business an exciting place to work.

In one example employees were able to describe the soul of the business far better than the owner and how the atmosphere made them feel. They felt part of something; they felt important.

Unlike the big corporates the Small Giants are not driven by profit maximisation but by doing what is right, which is a by-product of the owners originally setting up their business to do something they really cared about. This passion ensured they recruited people who also cared.

Caring employees who are focused on doing what is right usually deliver outstanding quality, unlike most faceless corporates.


The book, which is available on line for about £ 1.50 second hand, has a lot more to add than three key ideas. It is filled with fantastic stories of businesses that you will admire for their determination to be great instead of big.

And sometimes it is great to see people who have the strength to do what they believe is right, putting quality before profit.

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