If vocational education ever has its day again, the remodeling industry might owe a debt of gratitude to Darius Baker. Active in national and local efforts to get young people interested in construction careers, he believes businesses and educators alike must do more to promote positive alternatives to the college track. He leads by example, giving weeks each year to SkillsUSA, which prepares students for careers in the trades. He also spearheaded a construction track at a local technical school, helping to develop standards, raise scholarship money, and enlist the support of local companies.

D&J Kitchens & Baths began as a cabinetry partnership between Baker (front right) and John Scofield (front left) in 1981. The company's real turnaround came after 2000, when the two moved out of their home offices, switched from lead carpenters to a focus on diversified skill sets, and began developing systems. They also solidified their niche in the largely overlooked market of smaller, working-class homes, and recently began offering financing through GE Finance.

Buy-in is key at D&J, and Baker and Scofield encourage staff to help write standard operating procedures and to further their educations. “It comes back to us fiftyfold,” Baker says.