For practical purposes, the name of this company should read Payne, Payne, Payne, and Payne. Mike and his brother Dave started the family, design/build firm five years ago, and have since hired two of Mike's sons. So far, the Payne company finds working together a pleasure.

“Everything is so smooth, so comfortable because we work on the basis of trust,” says Mike senior, the company's president. That trust is not just a matter of bloodlines; it's also the result of solid job experience and a clear division of responsibilities.

Mike's previous company, which he owned with a partner, put up 60 homes a year. Dave was the field man. When the 1991 recession bit into that business, Mike dissolved the partnership and began a “lean and mean” custom home business with Dave as vice president. Their job descriptions? “Dave is the builder and I'm the bureaucrat,” he says.

Today, the company builds about 15 homes a year—a pace that feels like a vacation to Mike, who used to close a house a week at his old company. “Because of our experience, we were able to apply the organizational efficiencies of a big builder to our small shop, like critical path scheduling, computerized reports, and billing,” he explains. “The in-house organization is vital”

Son Eric, the computer genius, handles much of the paper pushing, freeing his father to concentrate on sales, client relations, and long-range planning. Son Mike is following in his uncle's footsteps as a field supervisor.

“Our goal is to keep overhead very low,” says Mike, “If the market gets hot, we turn away business, but if the cycle turns on us, we're not carrying as much risk. We don't need to build as many houses before hitting the happy zone.”