MBA in hand, Doug Porter (second from right) started as the "low man" in a home building partnership, handling the books. Fifteen years later, he bought out his last partner and entered the remodeling market.

He last swung a hammer in 1982, choosing instead to build a business with long-term employees. His success in his rural market comes through community involvement, diversification, and systematization. He also employs plumbers and HVAC tradesmen, which helps job progress and gives cost advantages.

Porter's bonuses are based on how employees' work affects profits; in 2002, payouts were 3% of revenues. Innovations include a password-protected Web site section for homeowners to track job progress.

Porter wants the company to thrive beyond his retirement. He's on the right path. "You wonder if you're spending too much money in systems where you can do it yourself and get it done," he says. "But that doesn't work in the future."