The CEOs of five companies on this year's list got the chance to quiz legendary Inc 500 CEOs on pressing management topics. Let's just say they weren't bashful.

For a few hundred bucks in 1960, Tom Monaghan, with his brother James, bought a pizza joint in Ypsilanti, Mich., figuring the dough would roll in. "I wanted to just have this pizza place to pay my way through college," says Monaghan, who dreamed he would become an architect. But as the years progressed, Monaghan never designed a building, focusing instead on transforming the way pizza was made and sold. His company -- Domino's Pizza -- grew so fast that it landed on the Inc 500 in 1983, at #457. Monaghan sold out in 1998 for close to a billion dollars and now heads a charitable foundation.

In many ways, the famed pizza magnate represents what is truly remarkable about the Inc 500. He didn't invent the idea of mixing tomato sauce and cheese on a round crust. But he did cook up innovative delivery and franchising strategies, and that was enough to propel him to the pinnacle of American business.

Figuring that Monaghan and Inc 500 lions like him are a rare and fascinating breed, we sought their advice on behalf of the scrappy executives who grace this year's list. We thought the class of 2001 would be eager to hear from those who have been there, grown that, and written the book on it. It turns out we were half right.

Bill Thomas of Bills Khakis (#448) jumped at the chance to ask Sidney Swartz of Timberland Co. (#495 in 1983) about nurturing a brand through growth. Also appreciative: Brian Semling of Brian's Toys (#264), who asked Mike Dreese of Newbury Comics (#284 in 1986; #313 in 1987) for tips on managing young workers. But three other CEOs were not content to stand in the glow of their predecessors -- perhaps because they're direct competitors. Instead they challenged members of the old guard to defend what they call dated business models. Said one newcomer of his veteran counterpart: "The last five times we've been head-to-head, I've won."

Just how keenly do graying business icons feel the pressure? Let's go back to Monaghan. When we sent him a list of questions from Inc 500 CEO Todd Parent, whose Extreme Pizza is ranked #241 this year, his handlers urged him to keep mum. Sharing advice with a hot young company -- even for the founder of Domino's -- is a risky proposition.


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