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High Fliers: Top 50 Women-Led Companies

The Wall Street Journal - April 23, 2010
By Colleen Debaise

A supply-chain management company from Edison, N.J., has been ranked the No. 1 fastest-growing women-led company in the U.S., according to an annual ranking by trade group Women Presidents' Organization.

Argent Associates Inc., which specializes in the telecommunications industry, posted $115 million in annual revenues in 2009, a jump from $9.2 million in 2007. Founder Beatriz Manetta attributes the growth spurt, noteworthy in an otherwise stagnant economy, to an increase in clients' imports from China and India that are assembled in her warehouses.

WPO, a trade group for multimillion-dollar women-owned businesses, determined its third annual Top 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Led Companies list using a formula that combines percentage revenue growth and absolute growth. To be eligible for the list, companies must be privately owned, women-owned or led, and have generated at least $2 million by year-end 2009, among other criteria. About 400 companies applied for inclusion on the list.

Two companies cleared $200 million in annual revenues, the most of any on the list. No. 3, Artech Information Systems LLC, a Cedar Knolls, N.J., provider of information technology and project-management services to corporate clients, is run by Ranjini Poddar. No. 5, TransPerfect Translations International Inc., a New York provider of language services, is led by Elizabeth Elting.

Marsha Firestone, WPO's founder and president, says the group began compiling the rankings three years ago in an effort to dispel the notion that female-led companies are primarily mom-and-pop operations in "retail, cookie-making or crafts." Most on the list are business-to-business companies, many in traditionally male-dominated fields such as transportation, construction, manufacturing and distributing, she says.

The list comes at a time when women-owned firms have grown in number but still lag behind male counterparts in terms of revenue. The number of female-owned companies grew 125% between 1982 and 2002, and women currently own 10.1 million firms or about 40% of all private companies in the U.S., according to the Center for Women's Business Research. Only 3% of all women-owned firms have revenues of $1 million or more, compared with 6% of men-owned firms, the center estimates.

Female entrepreneurs may not grow companies to as high a level as men because of an inability to access funding, especially venture capital; a lack of female role models; and, possibly, persistent stereotypes that they lack financial know-how or business expertise, the center and other groups have theorized.

National Association of Women Business Owners Women's Business Enterprise National Council Women Presidents' Organization Center for Women's Business Research Savor the Success Ladies Who Launch Count Me In/Make Mine a Million Ms. Manetta, from No. 1 Argent Associates, says over the years she's run up against clients who were taken aback or treated her differently because of her gender. "It's been predominately a male industry - telecom and warehousing and supply chain - so do they always take you seriously? No," she says. "Sometimes you have to have a strong stomach."

But she's found that networking, tapping her contacts and displaying her expertise have helped her make inroads. "You have to be persistent and you have to do your homework," says Ms. Manetta, who had two decades of corporate experience before starting her own business. At the end of the day, "people will do business with people they like."

On average, companies on the Top 50 list grew by more than $30 million in revenue between 2005 and 2009; posted revenue of $45 million in 2009; and employ nearly 140 workers. A diverse group of industries, from medical staffing to security patrol services to ecological restoration, are represented.

Women "are an overall player in the economy," Ms. Firestone says. "They contribute to the tax base and to employment, and we need to give them due recognition."