Growing Danger

Relentless prosperity is forcing a choice on many small companies: expand or die

Colleen Barton knows a lot about massive pressure: She has spent a career studying the forces that bend rock and move tectonic plates. Lately, the weight of client demands has the former Stanford University geomechanics professor feeling a bit like twisted bedrock herself. A Who's Who of giant oil companies, from Mobil to Shell, is clamoring for the consulting services and proprietary software of Barton's three-year-old business, GeoMechanics International Inc. "We have too much work!" says Barton, who helps clients estimate the strength of rock they're drilling through. On the one hand, she is afraid to turn it down for fear of losing a client. On the other, she's worried about the company's ability to handle the load.

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