The partners: Friends about town
Met: 1982
Fused: 1991
Bonding event: Holiday dinners and backyard barbecues

After moving to the San Francisco suburb of Novato, in 1982, Ray Henricksen worked as an independent sales rep hawking ergonomic office equipment, such as wrist rests and back-friendly chairs. But in 1991 the chair company that Henricksen represented went bankrupt and his wrist rest supplier was having trouble meeting deadlines. Both developments jeopardized the business he had built with dozens of customers. So he asked his friend Brenda Hartley, who sewed for a hobby, if she could step in as a short-term manufacturer.

The Hartleys had arrived in Novato from Britain within weeks of the Henricksens' move from Chicago. The couples, who have four boys between them, had met at a day care center. Soon the families were spending Thanksgiving and Christmas together.

Before long, Hartley was crafting about 1,000 wrist rests a month. Then Tom James, a neighbor and barbecue guest of the Henricksens, heard about the nascent company, now called WorkRite Ergonomics (#434 on the 2000 Inc. 500). He quit his job at Federated Department Stores and signed on.

By 1993, Henricksen's products were generating $733,000 in revenues, thanks largely to Hartley (who became the company's chief financial officer) and James (who is now vice president of marketing). For what he describes as a "nominal" sum, Henricksen let his pals buy in as partners, each with a 20% stake. Now they hold shares in a $21 million company.

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