Small is beautiful: award winners thrive as the business world consolidates.

Author:Mildenberg, David
Position:Up Front - Small business - Editorial

Before returning to this magazine in March, I spent 15 years working for billionaire-owned private companies. No, this isn't a liberal journalist's rant against the 1%, or in the case of my former employers, Michael Bloomberg and the Newhouse family, the 0.1%. There's much to be admired about companies with vast amounts of patient capital, wielded by leaders unconcerned about quarterly earnings fluctuations or the short lifecycles of private-equity-owned companies. But now that I'm back in an environment more akin to much of the working world, I marvel at the ability of small businesses to thrive. That's because the deck seems so stacked against them.

Consolidation in many industries--auto dealerships, banks, airlines, broadcasters, shopping malls, hospitals and physician practices, to name a few--has created major barriers to entry that benefit the large and entrenched. With large companies often limiting their vendor lists and astutely wielding political influence, bigness begets bigness. Not surprisingly, the rate of new-business formation nationwide has slumped more than 25% since 1978, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. North Carolina hasn't had a new community bank startup in five years.

It's motivating, then, to read this issue's Small Business of the Year stories about how the companies led by Oscar Wong, Jennifer Appleby, Pete Burgess and George Halages defied the odds. While their success particularly impressed our judges, they represent...

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