Every small company has dreams of growing up. For those firms listed on the Fortune Global 300 Best Small Companies 2001, perhaps the biggest challenge is to outgrow their junior rankings. That means expanding annual sales beyond the US$500 million ceiling that separates small companies from qualifying for higher categories. The sales ceiling separates small companies from the bigger league. In the past, several fast-growing companies have burst through the barrier, including Infogrames, ARM Holdings, and Infosys Technologies. Exactly who might be dropped from next year's list for the right reasons is anyone's guess, but the field of 2001 winners offers some tantalising candidates. The awards will be presented tonight at a WPC gala dinner. A close look at this year's choices reveals a concentration of old-economy thoroughbreds that can set the pace in any conditions. Justin Doebele, senior editor for Asia, Forbes Global, says tough economic conditions had done much of the hard judging before the Forbes team sat down to sift through the reams of information polled from fund managers, entrepreneurs, bankers and equity analysts. 'There's a lot of gloom in the market at the moment,' Mr Doebele says. 'Those that do well in this kind of environment are the strongest companies.' To qualify, a company must be publicly listed, have sales of less than US$500 million, show strong revenue growth and earnings, or prospects of fast growth if they are new. Asian companies made a strong showing, with 77 firms taking honours, a total of 26 per cent of those listed. Organisers say they were impressed by the number and quality of mainland entries. Most of the firms - including the 15 selected - are privately-owned companies, edging out state-owned firms that still dominate large sectors of the economy. 'The rise of China is encouraging,' Mr Doebele says. 'Privately-owned firms are the only companies producing growth or employment and making money.' Hong Kong firms fared well, with eight getting the thumbs up from the judges. The list included familiar names such as Cafe de Coral and Giordano, and rising stars such as footwear manufacturer Kingmaker Footwear, consumer products maker Arts Optical, and electrical products manufacturer Kingboard Chemical. Mr Doebele says the award was important because it recognised small companies - a sector of the economy that provides enormous employment and wealth and yet is sometimes under-recognised. 'Small companies are really critical in revitalising the economy,' he says.