Patricia Harroun (front row, center) says her mission is "to improve everyone's life, having been in everyone's life a bit. It would be great if they say that about me in the end."

They may, indeed. And her self-improvement values translate to her staff, who follow a five-step achievement ladder with monetary milestones. "Striving to improve lives while improving your home" is part of Cardea's culture. If any action doesn't fit that mantra, it's not done. All but one employee has been with the firm for longer than five years.

"I try to be the boss I never had," says Harroun, who got into carpentry through President Carter's CETA program, working her way into entrepreneurship. Her desire to improve lives reaches to industry and community memberships, too, including Habitat for Humanity's Women Build program and the Washtenaw Remodelors Council, where she's a former chairperson and officer. She is also a Keppler Award winner for community and industry involvement.