As told to Darren Dahl
Somewhere, a credit card is being swiped -- and Drew Sementa is making money. His company, Premier Payment Systems (No. 26), processes credit and debit card transactions for merchants. The Lombard, Illinois, business had $48.8 million in revenue in 2007.
Mother's occupation: My mom taught kindergarten and later owned the Makin' Bacon Café in Pinellas Park, Florida. She sold it but kept the little pig figurines that decorated the place.
Father's occupation: My father was not a part of our family when I was growing up. I was raised by my grandfather, who ran a construction business.
Education: I left the University of Central Florida after my junior year to join a dot-com.
Previous jobs: My grandfather hired me at 14 to do grunt work, like digging ditches for sewer lines. When I was 16 or 17, he brought me inside to work in the office. I handled payroll and accounting and learned how to read a balance sheet and a P&L statement. After that, I knew I could run my own business.
Its origins: I took a job with a guy who sold merchant accounts. After about a week, I realized that I could be selling them myself. So I quit and started my business out of my basement.
Why it's growing: We have distinguished ourselves by minimizing the rates that merchants pay. We are also transparent. Merchants often think they are getting ripped off by processing fees. So I take the time to show my clients where the rates come from and that they are fair.
Where I get my inspiration: My grandfather knew how to make people smile and focused on doing what was right. For example, many construction companies lay off their staff during the winter. My grandfather found a way to keep paying workers so they could take care of their families. That has inspired me to do the best I can for my staff.
The best part of my job: One: the fact that we make money while we sleep. Two: When I walk into the office every day and see this beehive of activity -- it makes me feel great inside.
The worst part of my job: Paying taxes. I also feel some pressure now that I know I have my employees and their families counting on me.
My last vacation: I'm Italian, so family is very important to me. Each year, I take two weeks off and stay at my grandparents' house in Naples, Florida.