Everything Jim Rosen needs to know about management he learned in nursery school. Rosen, a 1994 regional Entrepreneur of the Year winner, has been president of $28-million Fantastic Foods for 19 years. But he believes the same techniques he used as a Montessori teacher 20 years ago are effective with the 90 employees of his Petaluma, Calif., dry-soup-mix manufacturing company. After all, he maintains, "big people are just little people who got big.

"With kids," says Rosen, "the most important thing is how they feel about themselves. With employees also, if you want them to have the right attitude, you have to help build self-esteem." Rosen doesn't give employees insurmountable tasks. "You want them to stretch, but you need to make sure they have the ability and the tools to achieve their goals." A corollary of that axiom: Never do for a child what the child can do for himself. "If you're a good manager, once your people are up to speed, you never do their jobs for them." Whenever possible, Rosen also tries to let employees "run with their ideas, even if I think they should go in a different direction. They'll learn something on their own, and that's more powerful than if it comes from me."

Rosen recasts the Montessori philosophy for the production floor. Like classroom materials that let children gauge their own progress, such benchmarks as daily production goals are posted in the factory. "It's automatic feedback, and it's impersonal," says Rosen. "Each person evaluates himself or herself. I don't have to say anything. The clarity takes away stress, and we want to get rid of all the stress we can."