The quick and the dead
A look at some of the best and worst performers from our inaugural list.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – In October 1991, when FORTUNE's Fastest-Growing Companies list first appeared, the Gulf war had come and gone, and the economy was just waking up from a recession. No one knew it, but the longest period of economic expansion in the country's history had already begun. Scan our first Fastest-Growing list and you'll find harbingers of the boom and bust to come. There were tech upstarts that would go on to dominate their industries, including Microsoft (No. 90) and Dell (No. 70), whose chairman, Michael Dell, then 26, appeared on our cover. There was also a fair share of hot companies that would flame out--remember Egghead (No. 91)? And there were firms that would figure in post-crash scandals, such as LDDS (No. 20), forerunner of WorldCom, and HealthSouth (No. 50). As we approach this year's Fastest-Growing issue (Sept. 5), here's a look at three notable successes and three former fast growers that haven't fared as well, showing their rank on the original list and total return from October 1991 through June of this year. For comparison, the S&P 500 returned 303% during that period.
1991 rank 2
Total return* 6,601%
Cisco's shoot to the top is by now legendary. Selling routers and other technology for linking computers, Cisco became the indispensable Internet stock. Explosive demand for networking gear, plus a relentless stream of acquisitions, drove Cisco's stock price ever higher. In 2000, Cisco was briefly the most valuable company on earth--topping Microsoft and GE--with a market capitalization of more than $550 billion. Cisco may no longer be the hottest stock on the block (it recently ranked as the 17th-biggest company by market cap), but it still owns the market for routers, and business remains robust.
1991 rank 29
Total return* 450%
Symantec went from peddling various niche products to doing one thing--computer security--really well. And with worms and viruses continuing to wreak havoc on the world's PCs and servers, the company is well positioned to thrive in coming years. Symantec just paid $10.5 billion for Veritas, the data-storage specialist--among the biggest software deals ever. Its next challenge: contending with Microsoft's push onto its turf.
1991 rank 46
Total return* 775%
The world's biggest biotech company cruised through the 1990s thanks to its two hit drugs, Epogen (used to treat anemia) and Neupogen (for chemotherapy patients). Last year the stock faltered on concerns that changes in Medicare reimbursement rules would hurt its cancer drugs. But those fears proved unfounded; Amgen recently announced sharply higher earnings, and its stock hit a 52-week high.
1991 rank 1
Total return* N.A.
Zeos had the right idea: sell PCs directly to consumers and small businesses by mail. And the model worked well enough to catapult the Minneapolis-based company to the very top of our first ranking. But Dell did the direct-sales thing better than Zeos (as well as everybody else). Before long Zeos was struggling to keep up. In 1995 chipmaker Micron Technology bought Zeos for about $400 million to create a new company, Micron Electronics. A year later Micron Electronics revamped its PC business, dropping the Zeos name and closing Zeos's Minnesota plant.
1991 rank 7
Total return* 3%
Believe it or not, renting videos was once a sexy business, and Blockbuster used its size to crush mom-and-pop shops. But in the age of Netflix, TiVo, and the $5.50 DVD at Wal-Mart, video rental is no longer a lucrative game; Blockbuster has lost $4.3 billion since 1999. Now CEO John Antioco is under even more pressure: After a nasty proxy fight this spring, corporate raider Carl Icahn won three seats on the company's board.
1991 rank 64
Total return* 295%
Sun was a Silicon Valley pioneer, building high-powered workstations that ran on proprietary chips and software. But its server business hasn't been the same since the Internet bubble burst, with IBM and Dell eating away at its market share. Sun may have a charismatic, combative leader in Scott McNealy, but the company hasn't turned an annual profit in four years, and its stock price has been single-digit since 2002.
N.A. Not applicable. * Cumulative total return, Sept. 30, 1991, through June 30, 2005.