When he was awarded Big50 in 1996, Merlyn Vandervort owned Metro Renovators, one of the nation's largest disaster reconstruction companies. A little more than 10 years later, he's the president of Millennium Restoration and Construction Services, which includes separate construction, development, real estate, investment, marketing, and publishing companies, and owns The Horny Toad restaurant, the highest volume eatery in Missouri. Not bad for a guy who started as a carpenter.

Inrecon, first, and then Belfor — large insurance restoration companies — acquired Metro Renovators. Vandervort stayed as a regional vice president for six years. Then, he says, “I was ready to move and do things on my own.”

He settled in Lake of the Ozarks — a place he'd visited many times and where he ultimately decided he'd like to raise his family — and bought a small waterfront restaurant and other properties.

Last year Millennium Restoration and Construction Services did $12 million in residential work alone, and it has nearly $60 million in construction projects in progress, including a restaurant, entertainment, and hotel/condominium complex on the lake.

Did Vandervort imagine doing all this? “I always had high expectations and a good work ethic,” he says.