By Joseph F. Schuler Jr.. Gene Peterson was named Big50 in 1988, but he received much heavier news in 1997, when doctors discovered he had cancer. Unless he were to have a radical procedure, he was told, he'd have just years to live. Peterson had the procedure, then changed his life to help others.

Today, Peterson works as a facilitator for Business Networks, the peer review group that helped fine-tune his firm Catastrophe and Restoration Experts (CARE), in Salt Lake City. CARE reached $2.7 million in volume at its height, in 2000, earning 42% gross and 12% net margins.

Business at CARE has tapered off since Peterson first became ill, and key employees have left, with Peterson's encouragement. Meanwhile, at Business Networks, Peterson helps multiple companies with business plans, marketing analyses, and more.

With CARE, Peterson says, he influenced just one firm. "I decided [when I was diagnosed] that if I wanted to leave my mark on life and didn't have long to do it, I needed to do something that had a greater impact. Now, I've touched 30 or 40 other companies."

Fortunately, Peterson should have much more time to help others: His most recent checkup earlier this year showed no cancer.