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Posted: November 01, 2010

Top Company 2010: Accuvant

Winner in the Technology/Media category

Eric Peterson

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When William Strub III, Dan Burns, Scott Walker and Dan Wilson founded Accuvant in 2002, they decided there would be no CEO. Instead, the four equal partners would collaboratively steer the data-security firm.

"It didn't feel like any one of us had a monopoly on how things should be done," says Walker, vice president of strategic planning. "On paper it sounds like a bad idea, but in reality the wisdom of the group exceeds the wisdom of any one of us as individuals."

Echoes Burns, vice president of sales: "By the time something gets vetted by all of us, we're pretty confident we're making the right decision."

Today what Walker jokingly dubs "a nine-headed monster" guides the 300-employee, 35-office Accuvant, which has ridden a steep growth curve since its founding - out of necessity.

"First and foremost, it was our plan to serve the enterprise market," Burns says. "In order to do that, we had to build a national footprint and a national model from day one. It was not easy to grow fast, and it certainly wasn't profitable. But we kept our foot on the gas because we needed to get the necessary depth and breadth to go after national clients."

The strategy worked: After growing at a nearly 8,000 percent clip from 2002 to 2008 - and landing on the Inc. 500 in 2007 and 2008 - Accuvant counts 60 of the Fortune 100 companies among its 3,900 clients.

Geographically, Accuvant grew from a primarily Western market into the Midwest and the Southeast. On the horizon is the Northeast, with offices in both New York and Boston opening in the near term. The company further bolstered its East Coast presence with its acquisition of Maryland-based Ciphent in September. The deal, the first acquisition in Accuvant history, added 85 employees to the company's rank as well as a solid foothold in the government market, as about half of Ciphent's business involved federal contracts.

Burns says Accuvant's culture has kept the company on the forefront of the industry, outperforming the market during a difficult time. "The secret sauce was to hire people with entrepreneurial mindsets," he says. "A lot of companies talk about culture but really don't have one. We empower our people to make decisions that benefit the company. Our employees really appreciate that and tend to stick around for a long time."

Innovation has been critical to keeping at the forefront of information security, adds Burns, noting that both client perspectives and security threats evolve from year to year. "The last thing Coke wants to do is have their recipe in the hands of Pepsi," he says. "Data-leakage prevention is a hot topic now."

Beyond recipes, Coca-Cola might have "a million credit card numbers and a half-million employee health records," notes Walker. "It's information that's absolutely critical to protect."

Accuvant's need for cutting-edge technology contributes to a good cause, he adds. "We obsolete stuff quicker than it's actually obsolete. Our IT department found we could auction off old computers and give the money to Children's Hospital." The initiative has netted about $4,000 in donations for the hospital this year.
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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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