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Four decades-old companies that are growing like start-ups

August 19, 2015, 6:15 PM UTC
Engl.: USA, North Dakota, Bakken formation, fracking, hydraulic fracturing, oil boom, oil production, oil industry, crude oil, economy, Buffalo Wild Wings a new sportsbar/restaurant catering to the oil industry-fuelled boom in the workforce and population in Williston || North Dakota oil boom. Based around the town of Williston, hydraulic fracturing, also known as 'fracking' has enabled a vast reserve of previously unobtainable oil to be accessed.
Photograph by Dermot Tatlow—laif/Redux

The ascendancy of technology in America’s corporate hierarchy has conditioned us to equate “fast-growing” with “new.” When you hear that a business has logged profit and sales growth of 15% or more for three years in a row (the table stakes for joining Fortune’s Fastest-Growing Companies list), it’s easy to assume it’s rising on an updraft of innovation—thanks to a groundbreaking chip, a must-have “wearable,” or the Uber of something or other.

Look more closely at many other fast growers, however, and you’ll find stories of endurance rewarded—of businesses that performed just fine for decades before bigger shifts in the economy and culture helped them turbocharge their growth.

Homebuilder NVR (NVR), for example, stuck with a cautious real estate strategy for 15 years before the housing crash and subsequent recovery made it pay off.

Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) was a steadily growing restaurant chain for a quarter-century, but the rise of fantasy sports and the paleo diet enabled it to become an appetizer-fueled juggernaut.

These companies and the two others featured here, water-management giant Ecolab (ECL) and retailer Ulta Beauty (ULTA), have near-term futures as promising as their recent pasts, and they demonstrate that in business, eye-catching blossoms are often attached to deep roots.

Fastest-Growing Companies: Ones to Watch
Buffalo Wild Wings
Ulta Beauty

To see the list of our top 100 Fastest-Growing Companies, visit

A version of this article appears in the September 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine with the headline “Seizing Their Moment.”