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


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