When Evelyn Yowell was named to the Big 50 in 1998, she was the chief operating officer at J.J. Swartz. Now, Tom Swartz's "right-hand woman" of 23 years (six as COO), has purchased his 12-employee, Bloomington, Ill., branch office. Yowell will run it as a separate company under the J.J. Swartz name.

Yowell set up the branch in 1987, and Swartz (Big 50 1987) says Yowell always kept the branch together. Changes in his personal life, coupled with opportunities to pay down credit and get better vendor discounts because of quicker payment, were factors in the sale. It allowed him to streamline staff and processes while rewarding a loyal employee.

Yowell negotiated a Small Business Administration loan and agreements with the branch's two salespeople. Each now has 10% ownership. The remaining employees chose to stay under Yowell's leadership.

Yowell considered leaving to start her own firm, but she loves the people at J.J. Swartz, which helped inspire the deal. "I have always been fortunate to be surrounded by good people -- Tom No. 1."

So far, the sale seems to be working. She's enjoying more personal time and logging a healthy gross margin and a slight net profit.