Several of the Triangle's most successful corporations also rank among the country's largest privately owned companies.
On Forbes latest annual list, which is based on annual revenue or estimated revenue, Quintiles of Durham comes in at No. 133 with $3 billion. Raleigh-based General Parts, owner of the Carquest Auto Parts chain, is No. 148 with $2.79 billion. And Cary-based SAS is No. 188 with $2.31 billion.
SAS co-founder and CEO Jim Goodnight is mentioned as one of the list's "billionaire bosses."
Elsewhere in North Carolina, MBM, a food distributor based in Rocky Mount, comes in at No. 49 with $5.99 billion. Charlotte-based department store chain Belk is No. 110 with $3.35 billion.
While such lists might seem irrelevant, they give companies exposure that can help win new customers and recruit new employees.
Forbes also has a profile of Quintiles founder and CEO Dennis Gillings. The story trace the history of how the UNC Chapel Hill professor, a "30-year-old Brit with longish hair and bushy sideburns," got the idea of handling clinical drug research for big pharmaceutical companies in 1975, founded Quintiles in 1982 and expanded it to become the world's largest contract research organization.
The story also estimates that Gillings, now 66, owns a 24 percent stake of the company, worth about $700 million including debt. And it notes: "These days Gillings' hair is short and he favors impeccably cut suits."
But the story also explores some of the challenges Quintiles faces, including a backlash against contract research organizations' close ties to drug makers and questions about whether for-profit companies are as careful as university researchers in making sure new drugs are safe. One example cited is GlaxoSmithKline's controversial Avandia diabetes drug, which Quintiles helped test.
Quintiles' big pharmaceutical customers also are "stuck in a steady downward spiral" with fewer new drugs approved and fewer blockbuster medicines, Forbes writes.
Gillings has responded by investing Quintiles' cash to help clients develop medicines, in return for royalties from successful drugs. And he's looking ahead.
"Gillings sees an opportunity to profit from regulators' worries about drug safety," Forbes writes. "Avandia and other recent safety controversies, he says, occur because existing trials are designed to pick up big safety problems, not subtle increases in the risk of common problems such as heart attacks.
"Gillings is looking for a way forward. He's working on a vast database of patient blood samples that could be mined with new genetic technologies to catch early warning signs of potential drug side effects."
Read the full Forbes report on private companies here.
Read the Gillings' profile here.