Visit the Inc. 500 site, which includes a fully searchable database of winners from 1982 to the present

The Founders Top reason for starting Inc. 500 business: to be own boss: 26%

No single reason captures Joseph Khoshabe's motivation for starting United Financial Mortgage Corp. (#440). But a single date does: April 14, 1986.

It was the worst kind of Monday. At 10 a.m. Khoshabe and his fellow managers in the Cracker Jack division of Borden Inc. were called into a conference room. An Iranian immigrant, Khoshabe had been working for the food giant for nearly 20 years, rising from moving pallets on the warehouse floor to becoming superintendent of national distribution for Cracker Jack. That day emissaries from corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, delivered the word: the division, located in Chicago, was shutting down. Khoshabe was losing his job.

But he was hardly jobless. Having anticipated just such an event, Khoshabe had started a mortgage-brokering business on the side. He had hesitated to run that business on a full-time basis, so he'd brought in a couple of partners to help. He had also begun dabbling in real estate, having borrowed $2 million to buy a 100-unit apartment complex. Between those two sidelines, Khoshabe figured he needn't fret about making ends meet.

On any other day, that might have been a reasonable assumption. But at 1 p.m. on that fateful Monday, Khoshabe's real estate lender, unhappy with Khoshabe's choice of business partners, began foreclosure proceedings. Khoshabe spent the afternoon in court, signing his real estate holdings over to the lender. And at 6 p.m., he sat in his attorney's office while his partners outbid him for control of the mortgage-brokering business.

The following morning Khoshabe--who certainly didn't have much else to do--went on a four-mile walk to take stock of himself. He was 41 years old. His job, his business, and his real estate holdings were all gone. He thought back to his childhood, when his father, once a well-to-do merchant, had been forced to sell his business to pay his creditors and had left town in shame. He eventually returned, but he never regained his previous level of success. Feeling that his father had given up, Khoshabe "didn't want history to repeat itself."

Working for himself, he thought, would make him master of his own fate. He would be his own boss, gain control of his life, prove he could bounce back. There would be no more employers, no more partners. "If I was going to fail or succeed, it was going to be on my own," he says. Two weeks later he started United Financial Mort-gage, which has since grown into a provider of mortgage-banking services that will post $7 million in sales this year.

The company, which is based in Oak Brook, Ill., has lived up to Khoshabe's expectations, and he plans to pass it on to his son. He still has bad days, but nothing compares with that Monday of a decade ago.

In retrospect, of course, Khoshabe is glad it happened. "Even if I had eventually become the president of Cracker Jack, I wouldn't make the money I make now, I would not live where I do, and I would not have the respect I have," he says. "At least now I can be what I want to be and do what I want to do."