Two years after selling Des Moines, Iowa-based ABC Electric, 67-year-old Dave Ward wanted a takeback. Although he'd handed over the financial reins to new owners Tri-City Electric in 2003, he stayed on as business development manager — and watched as longtime employees left and loyal general contractors turned their backs on the company. So this spring, at an age when most men are playing golf full-time, Ward bought back the company he founded 46 years ago, renamed it ABC Electrical Contractors, and started rebuilding its reputation. Five months into the process, we asked him how he's doing it.

Brand plan — Ward needed to publicize the change, so he hired an ad agency. Aside from getting him profiled in a local business publication, they also helped him create a mailer to send to old customers — but it had to have the right message. “They wanted to make it all about the fact that I'm back running the company,” he says. “But I've got a good management group, so I said, ‘I'm here, but I'm surrounded by these great people, too.’”

Smaller is better — When Ward sold ABC, it was an $18 million company. This year, he's shooting for $14 million and focus on residential construction. “At $18 million we weren't able to manager our jobs as well,” he says. “We got to a point where we were just spread too thin, and that's when things can get out of hand.”

Re-evaluating values — The most important step in saving ABC, Ward says, was winning back what made it successful in the first place: relationships. “When our old customers found out the company had been sold, they didn't give us the same respect,” he says. “So I told my staff, ‘We're going to take care of our customers again.’”