Max Isley, named Big50 in 2000, can remember the exact moment he knew he had burned out. The then-president of Hampton Kitchens, in Wake Forest, N.C., was sitting with a client as she agonized over whether to use brass or pewter hardware in her kitchen when he realized he just didn't care anymore.

He closed the company showroom and moved into a home office, but soon realized he wanted to pull back even more, eventually getting out of the day-to-day business altogether.

“There are two directions you can go in making your business valuable” upon your exit, Isley says. One is to create a company you can sell; the other is to “make as much money as you can, build up a nest egg, and then walk away from it.” For years Isley put himself in the second category.

But his plans soon changed. One year ago, about two years after he decided it was time to get out, two separate parties expressed interest in buying the business. Isley eventually sold the rights to the company name (but not the assets) to his main installer.

Now, after 32 years in the business, Isley is able to concentrate more on the industry as a whole. He's lecturing for the National Kitchen & Bath Association and currently serves as its secretary, putting him on track to one day be NKBA national president — a longtime goal.