Gratitude and the Inc. 5000 List

September 29, 2020By Stephen V. Smith

Being an entrepreneur is not a journey you take alone. When you set out to build something of value, something that will have an impact, you immediately send a signal to the world that you need help.

And if you listen, if you pay attention, the world responds with abundance and grace.

A few weeks ago, Michele and I signed the paperwork to sell the company that had been our life’s work for almost 25 years. Eight days later, we received an email that WordSouth had been named to the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. How did we get there from that spare bedroom and a single Macintosh SE?


Zig Ziglar’s books and audio programs helped shape the person I am today. I had the opportunity to hear him speak in person a couple of times. One of Zig’s most powerful teachings, for me, centers around having an attitude of gratitude. In fact, Zig often talked about his Wall of Gratitude where he hung signed photos of people who’d had a profound impact on his life.

While I don’t have a physical wall of gratitude, I am often reminded of the people whose kind hearts and helpful spirits brought about real change in my life. Their stories are part of my story, woven in so tightly that you can’t read my life without seeing their imprint.

Among those hanging on my proverbial wall are people who took a chance on me or our company when I had yet to give them a reason. People who trusted me. People who made an effort to introduce me to others. People who passed along a good word about me and the work of our company. People who took the time to share lessons with me that took them years of living to understand.

People such as Carey, Teri, Paul, Roy, Bill, Mike, Grady, Luther, Randy, Lowell, Mack, Billy, Terry, Gerald, Fred, David, Teresa, Rod, Mark, Trevor, Carrie, Chuck, Dewaine, Jason, Brad, Barry, Keith, Lisa, Shannon, Nancy, Amy, Mike, Larry … the list goes on and on …

There were employees who taught me how to be a better manager, clients who taught me how to be a better servant and vendors who taught me how to be a better partner.

In the pages of my story are profiles in honor, public service and courage in the face of real hardship. There are sidebars of kindness, generosity and curiosity. Scattered throughout are examples of commitment, hard work and a spirit of doing whatever it takes to get the job done to improve the lives of those around you. These people are as much a part of my story as I am.

Of course, lining the top of my wall of gratitude would be images of my family. No one has loved more, sacrificed more, endured more or supported more. My wife and kids have all walked this road together, all taken pen in hand and written part of this story themselves.

Isaac Newton is credited with saying, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” I’ve never advanced mankind’s understanding of math and physics, but I know exactly what Isaac meant. We don’t get where we’re going alone. We move forward by building on the foundation of those who came before us, by taking the outstretched hand of people willing to help us walk a straighter path and tell a better story. May I always be mindful of their role, grateful for their help, and willing to do the same for those who come behind me.

(Note: This article is part of a series by founder Stephen V. Smith reflecting on WordSouth being named to the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. The series can be found here in its entirety.)