From the day it was founded in 1988, VB Contractors (Big50 2006) was a 50-50 partnership between Chancey Walker III (far right) and his son-in-law, Chris Ettel (second from right) — until a couple of years ago, when they saw the opportunity to bring on two new owners.

In Rick Stageberg (second from left), Walker and Ettel had an employee who had been with them for six years, and who, in Ettel's words, “was essentially running the remodeling division for us” while the two owners focused on the company's new-home business. Ettel and Walker could see that Stageberg was fully capable of starting and running his own business and were aware that he had an interest in owning a company.

Photo: Jon Abrahams

In Todd Savage,they saw a talented architect who could bring their design — a separate profit center from the remodeling and new-home divisions — to new heights. “We had been design/build,” Ettel says, “but not at the level and expertise he could bring to us.” Savage, who was working at an architectural firm in VB Contractors' Virginia Beach, Va., market, had an interest in construction as well as business ownership.

A little over a year ago, the deal was done. Walker and Ettel would remain majority owners; Stageberg and Savage would each be able to buy a one-sixth interest in the newly named VB Homes over a five-year period.

The change has allowed Ettel and Walker to concentrate on building their business rather than keeping it running day-to-day. Stageberg now handles both remodeling and new-home sales, and Savage — who brought another architect from the old firm with him to do the day-to-day drawing — heads up production.

While Ettel admits that doubling the number of owners' voices that have input in making key decisions has its challenges, the overall change in the business has been a positive one. The addition of Savage has given VB Homes a leg up on its competition; according to Ettel, it is now the only company in the area that has architecture, interior design, and construction under one roof. And by offering ownership to Stageberg, they proactively prevented the loss of a key employee. They've also set themselves up nicely for exiting the business, which may not be too far in the future for Walker, at least. “We now have owners who are potentially buyers,” Ettel says.