John Cade's briefcase was all that survived when his twin-engine Cessna crashed just after takeoff last January. The briefcase landed in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Troy, Mich.

Among the charred notes found inside was a list of Cade's objectives for Cade Industries Inc. (#18), of Marinette, Wis. At 37, he had built the business -- which provides components for the auto and aerospace industries -- by acquiring mature companies. His next goal was to put together a management team. "John liked acquiring companies more than running them," says Michael J. Cavill, Cade's successor and the second-biggest shareholder. "Our next test, he knew, was management."

Like many founders, Cade relied excessively on his own talents and vision. He was president, director, treasurer, and largest stockholder in Cade Industries. He also served as president of another concern in which the company has a controlling interest.

The day after Cade's death, Cade Industries's stock fell from about 1 1/2 to 1. There were four inquiries about buying the company. "People who knew that John was the key player thought that we would be in a panic," says Cavill. Employees were also worried. "We're here because John saw how we could fit," says Mohsen Pazirandeh, president of Cade's only nonmanufacturing subsidiary. "I was concerned: Will the people who take over have the same vision?"

But less than two days after the accident, the board installed Cavill, a co-founder who took leave from his job as a stockbroker at E.F. Hutton & Co. Directors shifted personnel to cover trouble spots. A general manager of one subsidiary temporarily took command of another one that Cade had been running since firing the president.

Director John Plouff stepped in to oversee the design of Cade Industries's annual report. Its cover will feature an eagle flying toward the sun. "Eagles fly alone and they fly high," says Plouff. "That's John to me."