Melvin Payne, chairman and CEO, Carriage Services Inc.

Consumer Products & Services, Finalist

As the remaining founder and operational leader of Carriage Services Inc. — the fourth-largest publicly traded death care company — Melvin Payne leads by example and is clearly recognized and appreciated for it.

Decentralization, local control, achievement and mission are recurring themes in how chairman and CEO Payne operates his business. Carriage functions without centrally derived budgets or financial targets. Instead, there is a set of operating standards, and achievement against those standards is rewarded and recognized.

One of Carriage’s defining characteristics is its operating model. Without a typical centralized management model, Payne instead focused on driving best practices from the local level. In 2003, together with some of the best managers and former owners in Carriage’s system, the company developed its “standards operating model,” in which performance standards are built based on the best businesses in Carriage’s portfolio. The standards are then approved by standards councils in the company, which are composed of the highest performers in each region. Each local business is then in control of its own destiny, charting and following its own course. Those who achieve high marks are rewarded and widely recognized throughout the company.

Payne began Carriage because he wanted to create his own company from the ground up. The desire to start a death care company stemmed from a multiple-fatality car accident in which his nephew died.

Carriage for Payne is not just a calling to build a business; it is born from a passion for helping others. When the business endured several takeover attempts, it wasn’t just about Payne. It was about the people who had trusted him. He decided selling the business would be the wrong thing to do for himself and everyone else in his life.

How to reach: Carriage Services Inc.,