When most of us hear about a lucky lottery winner, we fantasize about what we'd do if we won the money. But when Donald Matteson of DLM Building & Design in Phoenix, heard about someone hitting the jackpot in 1993, his thoughts didn't turn to vacations, yachts, or diamonds. He thought about his business.


He and his wife heard about a lottery winner's windfall, and started musing about what they'd do differently if money were no object. This was a crucial time in Matteson's then nearly 20-year career.

“You analyze your business and ask if you're having fun. When I first started, I got to know my clients and did most of the design myself.” But by 1993, Matteson had 2 architects, 25 staff in the field, and 5 in the office. Although he was proud of the success he'd achieved, he missed the days when having a small company meant he could enjoy hands-on involvement. But could he go smaller and still turn a profit? He was determined to try.

Of the next three calls Matteson (Big50 1992) received, two were from former clients and one was a referral. He decided to experiment by setting up a separate section of the company for just those jobs, using only the five employees he knew he wanted to keep. He did all the design and sales himself. To his delight, profit more than doubled. The “what if?” plan was now set in motion for real. “Over the next six months, I found jobs or helped find jobs for people as I let them go. Over the next two years we went from 30 people to 5, including myself.” Matteson encouraged a few of his staff to get their contractor's licenses and start their own businesses. He now calls on those former employees when he's looking for subs. The company does about as much volume as it did before downsizing, and Matteson says he hasn't had to advertise since 1994.

But the most rewarding part has been regaining a closer relationship with his clients. “All my customers know the four guys that work for me. Our customers are like part of the crew. We get invited to all their Christmas parties!”