Step right up. See the remodelers who took a 20-day European vacation and didn't phone the office! When they returned their business was still standing! Believe it or not.

Ripley's has got nothing on Paul and Nina Winans, of Winans Construction in Oakland, Calif., who say modestly that going to Europe didn't require a “tremendous amount of heroic preparation. We have systems in place.”

Although this three-week stint is the longest vacation they've ever taken away from the company, the Winans have traveled a lot during the 26 years they've been in business.

The key, they say, is to hire good people willing to work in an environment driven by systems, procedures, and practices.

While the owners are gone, employees work as a team. No one particular person is in charge, although one 23-year veteran has check-signing privileges and offers support to field personnel.

The standard Monday morning meeting continues, at which each person reports on his or her department and discusses ways of dealing with hot spots.

Also each week, job heads meet with clients and document the meeting. When the Winans return, they read the minutes to get a sense of where each job is in the pipeline.

Paul admits that employees must buy into the systems and the company's core values — called “The Winans Way” — for the business to run smoothly: “What we're selling is an approach to work — communicating, documenting things in an agreed way, making the client feel they've made the right decision. These are the most important things in a service project. Incidentally, the bathroom gets remodeled.”