This is our second annual list of Small Giants, 25 companies that value greatness over growth. They aren’t opposed to growth — just to growth at all costs. We picked 25 businesses that have sound models, strong balance sheets and steady profits — all privately owned and closely held. They contribute to their communities. They have been acknowledged as outstanding by others in their field. And they do things any business can learn from. Here is this year’s unranked list, all hailing from a wide range of industries, including American manufacturing.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Founder and CEO: Nawal Motawi
Revenue: $3 million
Nawal Motawi, 52, studied ceramics at the University of Michigan and learned tilemaking at Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery before founding her own company to make art tiles and do tile installations 25 years ago. The transition from artist to business owner wasn’t easy, but she eventually realized “I didn’t want to be the cute little art-tile place that never delivers on time and whose paperwork is all messed up.” In 2003, she adopted Toyota-style lean manufacturing techniques, coming up with a system for making only tiles that were needed rather than keeping large quantities of half-finished inventory on hand — unusual for a small venture with a large number of products. In 2009, she started ditching a network of showrooms that were a drag on profits, though it led to a breakup with her younger brother, who had been a partner. Today, the company is 100% owned by Motawi but opens its books to employees, who receive profit-based bonuses.