100 Fastest-Growing Companies
By David Rynecki Reporter Associates Elias Rodriguez, Muoi Tran

(FORTUNE Magazine) – In the 15 years that we have compiled FORTUNE's annual list of robust growers, a singular lesson has emerged time and time again: Even in the bleakest economic conditions, canny managers find ways to keep their companies thriving. That has certainly been the case during the past three years, the worst stretch for corporate profitability since the 1970s and a period in which the average company in the S&P 500 has seen profits decline 9.4% a year. Against such a challenging backdrop, the average company on our list increased revenues by 36% a year and earnings by 46%.

Which brings up another equally important lesson: It's impossible to draw hard and fast rules about what kinds of companies can grow and whether that growth can last. Short-sellers will no doubt peruse this list in search of prey, certain that fast growth equals reckless management. They should proceed with caution. Of the 100 companies ranked among FORTUNE's fastest growing, 43 were on this list last year. What's more, nine of those are here for a three-peat and six of those have made it four in a row. Yet the roster of names is hardly predictable. Yes, to be sure, hot sectors of the economy like health care and real estate are well represented. And there's the usual assortment of single-product newbies. But the list also includes large companies like Bed Bath & Beyond and Archer Daniels Midland that were supposed to have stopped growing years ago.

So how did we find these companies? Once again, we enlisted the services of Zacks Investment Research. The Chicago firm searched its database for publicly traded companies based in the U.S., with a minimum market cap of $50 million and at least $50 million in revenue over the past four quarters. A ranking was then assigned to each company based on earnings growth, revenue growth, and total investment returns. In the case of ties, we awarded the company with greater revenues the higher ranking. (See fortune.com/fastest for more details on the methodology and a complete breakdown of the numbers.)

As we said, there are no hard and fast rules for achieving growth. But there are qualities that many of the companies share. Like stubbornness. Take Tilman Fertitta, the eccentric CEO of Landry's Restaurants. He aggressively acquires failed chains like Rainforest Cafe in hopes of turning them around, even as rivals predict his doom. "I'm not going to listen to them," Fertitta says. And then there's a rarer ingredient: humility. At Bed Bath & Beyond, chief financial officer Ron Curwin wonders why his company has produced 30% profit growth while rivals have stalled. "There's no difference between what we sell and what you find on the shelves at Linens 'n Things," says Curwin. "But I guess that's the difference. We know we can be replaced by the customer without a thought." --David Rynecki

1 InVision Technologies REVENUE: $571.1 MILLION It was the Sept. 11 attacks that vaulted this obscure maker of electronic baggage-screening systems (like the one pictured above) into the market's limelight. In the decade prior to 2001, it sold 250 of its explosives-detection systems. It has since sold more than 750 machines at airports across the country, for as much as $1.4 million apiece. InVision's stock has kept pace, rising from $3 a share to $23 over the past two years. What will happen to InVision once U.S. airports are up-to-date? CEO Sergio Magistri is pinning his future on two strategies. First, InVision will soon surpass $100 million in annual revenues from servicing machines. Second, Magistri is looking at airports overseas. "Aviation is still a very high visibility target," he says. "That is not going to change."

2 American Home Mortgage Holdings REVENUE: $293.6 MILLION With low interest rates fueling a housing boom, this loan originator has grown sixfold in four years. CEO Michael Strauss recently announced plans to buy real estate investment trust Apex Mortgage Capital and reorganize American Home as a REIT.

3 AdvancePCS REVENUE: $14.11 BILLION The no-frills drug-benefits provider serves 75 million Americans. It's working on a plan to let doctors transmit prescriptions via BlackBerry. Goodbye, chicken scratch.

4 Career Education REVENUE: $849.3 MILLION A post-secondary-education firm with 74 campuses and a growing online presence now trains 62,000 students.

5 American Healthways REVENUE: $147.5 MILLION HMOs hire this Nashville company to assist in educating patients with serious ailments like diabetes.

6 Corinthian Colleges See box below. 6 Corinthian Colleges REVENUE: $472.9 MILLION There's nothing like stubbornly high unemployment rates to send people back to school. Indeed, this post-secondary, career-oriented education company saw its student population rise 26% in the past year. With an enrollment of 43,000 spread across 79 colleges in the U.S., demand has been greatest for business classes, as well as criminal-justice and homeland-security training. Over half the students currently working on a degree at Corinthian, however, will go into health-related fields. "We are the world's largest health-care provider," declares CEO David Moore (at left, flanked by a pair of students).

7 New York Community Bancorp REVENUE: $733.4 MILLION A pending merger with Roslyn Bancorp will give it a total of 145 branches in the Big Apple's metro area.

8 eBay REVENUE: $1.45 BILLION The online behemoth has more than 75 million users and some serious cash flow (see story on page 68).

9 Dynacq International REVENUE: $75.1 MILLION Operating Dynacq is often brain surgery. The company runs hospitals focused on certain surgical specialties.

10 EDO REVENUE: $356.3 MILLION The 78-year-old defense and aerospace supplier finds itself in the sweet spot of the U.S. military's plan to get lighter and faster. EDO has scored with its high-tech minesweeper and communications systems for electronic warfare. It also happens to be the world leader in bomb racks, which attach and release missiles on fighter planes. Now CEO James Smith has embarked on an aggressive acquisition program, buying five companies in the past two years.

11 Meritage REVENUE: $1.23 BILLION Is there a housing bubble? Orders for new homes rose 64% in the second quarter at this homebuilder.

12 New Century Financial REVENUE: $674.9 MILLION The Irvine, Calif., company has found its niche offering home mortgages to high-risk borrowers.

13 Chico's FAS REVENUE: $569.6 MILLION This women's clothing retailer--named for the bilingual pet parrot of the founders' neighbor--started out selling sweaters and Mexican folk art in 1983. Now the chain, based in Fort Myers, Fla., has 400-plus stores selling upscale clothes targeted at women over 35. In late July it announced plans to buy women's specialty retailer the White House for $90 million in cash and stock.

14 GulfTerra Energy Partners REVENUE: $685.3 MILLION GulfTerra, partly owned by El Paso, operates more than 15,700 miles of natural gas pipelines.

15 Hovnanian Enterprises REVENUE: $2.84 BILLION Chairman Kevork Hovnanian and his CEO son, Ara, build and sell single-family houses and condos in the eastern U.S., Texas, and California.

16 Right Management Consultants REVENUE: $492.5 MILLION A nationwide wave of pink-slipping has boosted this specialist in career transition and HR consulting.

17 FTI Consulting REVENUE: $298.8 MILLION Got a corporate restructuring problem? FTI offers answers for 125 companies on the FORTUNE 500.

18 Central European Distribution See box above. 18 Central European Distribution REVENUE: $330.8 MILLION Back in 1990, a 24-year-old former golf pro from Florida put his clubs in the closet and decided to try his luck as an entrepreneur in post-Iron Curtain Poland. Today CEO William Carey runs one of Poland's largest handlers of alcoholic beverages. The company supplies 800 products, including Mondavi wine and Johnnie Walker Scotch, to retail outlets from Krakow to Gdansk (at left, a keg delivery in Warsaw). Though 100% of sales are in Poland, Central European is incorporated in Delaware, and its shares trade on the Nasdaq. Now a millionaire, Carey says he's taken out his golf clubs again. "I'm a one-handicap in a country that just took up golf," he says. "That makes me the best golfer in Poland."

19 aaiPharma REVENUE: $248.9 MILLION By making its own line of pain pills, aaiPharma has become an emerging power in specialty drugs.

20 Penn National Gaming REVENUE: $729.2 MILLION The casino and racetrack operator gallops onto the list for a third straight year.

21 Flagstar Bancorp REVENUE: $714.6 MILLION The best-performing stock on this list with a 143% annualized return over three years, Flagstar is the largest independent savings institution in Michigan and a national leader in the wholesale mortgage business.

22 Synovis Life Technologies REVENUE: $50.2 MILLION Medical-device maker sells patches and strips for gastric bypass surgery. Its stock is up 170% this year.

23 Fidelity National Financial REVENUE: $5.45 BILLION Fidelity National's chairman, Bill Foley, wears many hats. He's a part-time vintner (California's Foley Estates), a part-time fast-food tycoon (as nonexecutive chairman of Hardee's parent, CKE), and a full-time player in the housing boom. Fidelity National, a slow-growing, century-old title insurer when Foley engineered a 1984 leveraged buyout, has vaulted to the top of its industry through a series of acquisitions. Now it processes nearly 50% of all U.S. residential mortgages. In what might be an ominous sign for real estate investors, however, Foley recently began ramping up Fidelity's previously overlooked loan-default business.

24 Navigators Group REVENUE: $279.2 MILLION Based in New York City, Navigators is one of the world's largest insurers of merchant ships.

25 Cima Labs REVENUE: $54.9 MILLION Minnesota pharma company has found a niche developing pills that dissolve in your mouth.

26 P.F. Chang's China Bistro REVENUE: $456.2 MILLION Chinese restaurant chain falls from last year's No. 3 spot and recently warned that growth is slowing.

27 National Medical Health Card Systems REVENUE: $570.6 MILLION Pharmacy-benefits provider in Port Washington, N.Y., says it could grow its bottom line 40% this year.

28 Aristotle REVENUE: $166.9 MILLION This holding company has businesses that make everything from CPR training manikins to sewing kits. With year-over-year sales growth of 300%, Aristotle proves the philosopher right: The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

29 Orleans Homebuilders REVENUE: $359.1 MILLION Located far from the bayou, this Bensalem, Pa., company develops residential communities across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Lately chairman and CEO Jeffrey Orleans has been expanding the business into Virginia, the Carolinas, and--with the acquisition of Masterpiece Homes--Florida.

30 International Game Technology See box below. 30 International Game Technology REVENUE: $2.14 BILLION Tom Baker, the 61-year-old CEO of International Game Technology, thinks of himself more as a TV producer than a slot-machine maker (at left, a machine in IGT's Reno factory). Some of his biggest casino hits have been modeled after popular old programs like Wheel of Fortune and The Addams Family. If not originality, what has driven IGT shares up an average of 57% over the previous three years? Try robust 15% profit margins. Baker sees no ebb to IGT's growth. He predicts that the continuing fiscal woes of local governments will persuade more states to authorize gambling to solve budget problems. As for whether people should bet on the slots or IGT stock, Baker offers this insight: "I just can't seem to win at the machines."

31 UTStarcom REVENUE: $1.13 BILLION Telecom access provider recently signed deals to expand wireless markets in India and China.

32 Christopher & Banks REVENUE: $338.8 MILLION With 466 mall-based stores, Christopher & Banks caters to plus-sized professional women. However, a weak economy has started to hit revenues, and earnings growth appears to have peaked.

33 TALX REVENUE: $126.6 MILLION Two-thirds of the FORTUNE 500 use TALX to verify employment and income. Three acquisitions since 2002 have tripled revenues.

34 Anadarko Petroleum REVENUE: $4.33 BILLION In the rough-and-tumble oil and gas exploration business, Anadarko is the bellwether.

35 Nautilus Group REVENUE: $578.2 MILLION Muscular competition and weaker consumer spending have hammered the stock--it's down 60% over the past year--of the Bowflex maker.

36 Metro One Telecommunications REVENUE: $255.9 MILLION Metro One handles dial-up information services for major wireless companies like Cingular and Nextel. This is its fourth straight year on the list.

37 TRC REVENUE: $307.4 MILLION TRC cleans up the environmental messes that companies and local governments leave behind.

38 Forest Laboratories REVENUE: $2.21 BILLION The reigning generic-drug king--on the list for four years running--already profits from depression and hypertension. Now it's funding research for a drug to combat compulsive shopping.

39 AmSurg REVENUE: $264.3 MILLION Since being spun off by American Healthways (No. 5 on this list) in 1997, AmSurg has established a chain of outpatient surgery centers in 27 states that specialize in procedures like colonoscopy and laser surgery to correct cataracts.

40 Southern Financial Bancorp REVENUE: $55.6 MILLION The 27-branch northern Virginia bank has been stepping into the mortgage business.

41 Lennar REVENUE: $7.69 BILLION Acquisition-hungry Lennar is one of the country's leading homebuilders. Its 2000 purchase of Home Corp. doubled revenues and gave it a stake in retirement-home construction. Now it's buying California developer Newhall Land & Farming Co.

42 XTO Energy REVENUE: $883.7 MILLION Energy explorer likes to buy unwanted land from larger companies and squeeze out every last drop of oil at the lowest possible price.

43 Denbury Resources REVENUE: $316.2 MILLION Denbury, located in Plano, Texas, is actually the largest producer of oil in Mississippi.

44 AmerisourceBergen REVENUE: $47.82 BILLION Drug wholesaler based in Chesterbrook, Pa., has been increasing sales and cutting costs--a prescription for double-digit growth.

45 Nvidia REVENUE: $1.73 BILLION It's been a rough road for last year's No. 1 company. In April, Nvidia's lawyers struck a deal with the SEC to end an investigation into the 3-D graphics chipmaker's accounting. Then, in late July, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang warned that revenue growth will be weaker than expected.

46 St. Mary Land & Exploration See box above. 46 St. Mary Land & Exploration REVENUE: $254.8 MILLION For most of its 95 years, St. Mary was a passive investor in oil and gas fields. But under CEO Mark Hellerstein, a former accountant, the company has spent 40% of its annual capital budget on acquisitions. Those deals brought much-needed technical expertise to St. Mary, says Hellerstein, and have allowed the company to discover new reserves with an astonishing success rate--in some locations with 90% accuracy. St. Mary's exploration teams (at left, a rig worker in Oklahoma) are dispersed in five geographic settings. When one isn't producing, the others kick in. "We've been able to repeat success," Hellerstein says. "That's something most of our competitors haven't been able to do."

47 Hot Topic REVENUE: $464.0 MILLION MTV-influenced fashions and a keen eye for shifting teen trends keep this retailer buzzing.

48 Option Care REVENUE: $340.4 MILLION Option Care offers in-home pharmacy services for patients with acute and chronic health conditions.

49 Waste Connections REVENUE: $521.4 MILLION California company collects, disposes, and recycles garbage in the West, Midwest, and Southeast.

50 Barr Laboratories REVENUE: $810.8 MILLION Barr, the first company to make generic Prozac, will soon offer a generic contraceptive pill.

51 Brown & Brown REVENUE: $489.4 MILLION Insurance middleman with booming revenues has increased profits for 42 consecutive quarters.

52 Sicor REVENUE: $474.9 MILLION This maker of injectable drugs used in cancer treatments has been slowed by rising R&D costs.

53 Evergreen Resources REVENUE: $140.9 MILLION The Denver energy exploration company has a prodigious record of finding methane gas absorbed in coal-bed deposits.

54 IDEC Pharmaceuticals REVENUE: $441.7 MILLION Looking for an earnings boost, the maker of the popular cancer drug Rituxan is merging with fellow biotech Biogen. But the deal could be a dud. Biogen's recent results have been disappointing.

55 Superior Energy Services REVENUE: $461.5 MILLION Superior's strategy is to take over the inferior wells of other oil drillers and try to make them profitable.

56 Patina Oil & Gas REVENUE: $260.6 MILLION The Denver rigger, operating over 5,600 wells, saw revenues jump by 82% in the second quarter.

57 Quicksilver Resources REVENUE: $130.5 MILLION The energy company looks for natural gas in unconventional spots like coal beds and tight sands.

58 Cytyc REVENUE: $241.1 MILLION With its ThinPrep test kit, the Boxborough, Mass., company has shown it can build a better Pap smear.

59 Spinnaker Exploration REVENUE: $227.4 MILLION Natural gas and oil explorer Spinnaker uses 3-D seismic data to figure out where to drill.

60 Stericycle REVENUE: $416.8 MILLION Stericycle collects and treats medical waste for 290,000 customers across North America.

61 Apollo Group REVENUE: $1.16 BILLION Parent of the largest private university in the U.S., the largely online University of Phoenix, Apollo has 187,000 students enrolled in post-secondary programs such as financial planning. In July the FBI ended a probe into allegations that Apollo had stolen trade secrets from a former software provider. No charges were filed.

62 Hudson River Bancorp REVENUE: $168.2 MILLION The 153-year-old bank continues to thrive on a traditional mix of deposits, loans, and mortgages.

63 PrivateBancorp REVENUE: $83.3 MILLION Chicago bank catering to wealthy individuals has more than doubled its share price in the past year.

64 Hampshire Group REVENUE: $301.6 MILLION The South Carolina company complements its apparel biz with, of course, real estate investing.

65 Engineered Support Systems REVENUE: $471.6 MILLION This St. Louis military contractor has an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to develop and deliver a mobile response unit that would be deployed in event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack in the U.S.

66 Cognizant Technology Solutions REVENUE: $257.1 MILLION Software maker knows how to keep costs down: It shifts projects over to workers in India.

67 Biosite REVENUE: $126.5 MILLION Biosite's products can detect eight commonly overdosed prescription and illicit drugs as well as help diagnose strokes and heart problems.

68 Express Scripts REVENUE: $13.66 BILLION Express Scripts provides drug benefits through such large insurers as UnitedHealthcare.

69 Charles River Laboratories REVENUE: $572.9 MILLION Charles River provides specially bred rats and mice for use in pharmaceutical research.

70 D.R. Horton REVENUE: $7.63 BILLION Homebuilder based in Arlington, Texas, saw its profits shoot up 47% in its fiscal third quarter.

71 Manhattan Associates REVENUE: $179.7 MILLION Supply-chain manager keeps stuff moving for retailers like Timberland and Pacific Sunwear.

72 Landry's Restaurants See box on this page. 72 Landry's Restaurants REVENUE: $952.2 MILLION Two sharks swim by your dinner table. A stingray tries nibbling at your fingers. In all, more than 10,000 fish and swamp creatures are within a short walk--not to mention the waitress who is asking if you want fries or onion rings. Welcome to the Landry's experience. Landry's, the parent company of theme restaurants, including the Downtown Aquarium in Houston (home of Sharkey, left) as well as Rainforest Cafe and Joe's Crab Shack, has always been more Sea World with French fries than haute cuisine. "Food is food," says Tilman Fertitta, Landry's founder and CEO, calling from the deck of his yacht. "You have to entertain people if you want to keep them coming back."

73 Pogo Producing REVENUE: $919.3 MILLION Pogo likes to bounce around. It goes searching for oil and gas everywhere from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Thailand and the North Sea.

74 ENSCO International REVENUE: $750.9 MILLION ENSCO operates 56 offshore rigs servicing domestic and international markets.

75 Albany Molecular Research REVENUE: $140.4 MILLION This drug discovery outfit partners with 160 pharma and biotech companies on R&D projects.

76 MGM Mirage REVENUE: $4.04 BILLION Vegas-based gaming operator MGM Mirage has used its 14 resorts--including the luxurious Bellagio casino--to drive robust revenue growth over the past few years. Then it rolled snake eyes: Profits dropped a surprising 47% in the second quarter.

77 National-Oilwell REVENUE: $1.63 BILLION Mud pumps, cranes, jacks--you name it, and National-Oilwell makes it for oil exploration.

78 R&G Financial REVENUE: $516.6 MILLION Puerto Rican commercial bank and mortgage lender does a growing business on the mainland as well.

79 WellPoint Health Networks REVENUE: $18.24 BILLION The country's No. 2 health insurer (behind UnitedHealth Group) has 16,500 employees.

80 L-3 Communications REVENUE: $4.40 BILLION Defense communications specialist also competes with No. 1--ranked InVision selling baggage screeners.

81 Investors Financial Services REVENUE: $549.5 MILLION Offers foreign exchange, lines of credit, and other services for mutual fund and insurance companies.

82 Prosperity Bancshares REVENUE: $97.8 MILLION Prosperity, for certain. Net income jumped 36% at the Texas bank in its fiscal second quarter.

83 Pediatrix Medical Group REVENUE: $484.4 MILLION Pediatrix is the nation's largest provider of pediatricians for hospital-based neonatal intensive-care units.

84 Capital One Financial REVENUE: $9.88 BILLION If you haven't received junk-mail solicitations from Capital One, count yourself among the few. This credit card company now has 47 million customers.

85 Corporate Executive Board REVENUE: $172.6 MILLION Executives at more than 1,900 companies from Costco to PETCO use Corporate Executive Board's research to understand management issues.

86 Balchem REVENUE: $60.6 MILLION Holy ingredients, Balchem! The company's products make frozen pizzas rise better, chewing gum taste better, and vitamin C stay potent in pet food.

87 AmeriCredit REVENUE: $1.11 BILLION A subprime lender to car buyers, AmeriCredit has earned kudos for minimizing lending risks. It's making its fourth straight appearance on this list.

88 Hilb Rogal & Hamilton REVENUE: $494.9 MILLION The nation's seventh-largest insurance broker, based in Richmond, boosted revenues 46% in second quarter.

89 Education Management REVENUE: $610.5 MILLION Art, cooking, and psychology are all part of the curriculum at this post-secondary school.

90 Staten Island Bancorp REVENUE: $736.7 MILLION Chartered in 1864, Staten Island still has only a modest 35 branches in New York and New Jersey.

91 Radian Group REVENUE: $1.16 BILLION Provides insurance and mortgage services to financial institutions in the U.S. and overseas.

92 Performance Food Group REVENUE: $4.71 BILLION Performance distributes bread, cooking oils, fresh vegetables, and other food products to some of the largest restaurant chains in the country, including Cracker Barrel, Outback Steakhouse, and TGI Friday's.

93 Bed Bath & Beyond See box above. 93 Bed Bath & Beyond REVENUE: $3.67 BILLION How has home retailer Bed Bath & Beyond continued growing in a business where cost-conscious consumers are notoriously fickle? "It's not about the numbers," says CFO Ron Curwin modestly. Rather, Curwin says, it's the freedom BB&B gives to local managers to adapt to their community. A Manhattan store (left) may sell window fans during the winter, while in Phoenix linens are offered in earth tones that no one in St. Louis would even consider buying. "We just don't believe that a centralized management team can sit in the corporate office and make decisions about stores in 44 states," says Curwin.

94 First Place Financial REVENUE: $108.0 MILLION The name is wishful thinking, but 94th ain't bad. The company climbed onto our list doing big business in mortgages as well as home equity and auto loans.

95 Archer Daniels Midland REVENUE: $29.73 BILLION The "supermarket to the world" is supersized no matter how you slice it. Still, it is hard to keep growing and satisfy Wall Street when you already have 260 processing plants, 25,000 employees on six continents, and sales of $30 billion. Quarterly earnings recently fell 15%.

96 Copart REVENUE: $342.8 MILLION One man's junk.... Selling busted-up cars and trucks to junk dealers and rebuilders is Copart's specialty.

97 Houston Exploration REVENUE: $392.4 MILLION Houston has no problem. It does have large reserves of natural gas at a time when demand is sky-high.

98 Kohl's REVENUE: $9.37 BILLION Department-store chain is one of the top stocks of the last decade, with a 31% average annual return.

99 Skechers USA REVENUE: $907.2 MILLION Gen Y shoemaker lost traction with $2.1 million loss in second quarter. The stock has slipped 24% this year.

100 QLogic REVENUE: $444.0 MILLION QLogic makes switches and software for storage networks. It's been on the list four years in a row.

Note: All revenue figures are for 12 months ending first quarter 2003.