I directed the development of two businesses that grew to more than $100 million—one in South Florida and one based in Baltimore. Both were moving along slowly for a while before we made a change. And then they shot upward.

The first was at around $135 million in sales when my partner, JSN, had a heart attack and wanted to stop working and retire. We didn't feel we could sell the business, because it was too dependent on us. So he suggested that we simply close up shop, take the cash, and retire.

That plan would have left me a pretty wealthy young guy. But because my spending habits were inflated, I wasn't sure the millions I'd be getting would be enough to carry me though another 40 years. I was only 37 years old at the time, and still had plenty of energy. Business was fun. And he was the one who had the heart attack, not me!

JSN was the controlling partner—and so I spent a weekend wondering how I could persuade him to keep the business open. My first thought was that he should simply give it to me and let me run it. But then I had a better idea. What if there was a way for us to work only five or 10 hours a week and keep the business open—to keep making money, but do only what we wanted to do?

"Well, if you could make that happen, I'd do it," he told me. So I explained my plan. Rather than shut the business down and take the cash, we'd break it up into five separately incorporated profit centers and provide each with its fair share ...

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