If a family-owned paint business hadn't gotten to the point where it didn't need one more worker, Al Mansell might not have gone into real estate.

But in 1969, L. Alma Mansell did set off to sell real estate, and six years later, decided to go into business for himself. It sounds like a real leap, but the risk was fairly low: Mansell had only $1,000 to put into his own company.

Things went fairly well until the early 1980s, when the real-estate market in Utah began a downward spiral. During the next nine years, more than half the real-estate agents in the state left the industry. Mansell, however, hung on, and Mansell & Associates joined a franchise called Realty World that offered many benefits. Five years later, Mansell & Associates disassociated itself with Realty World and started buying small companies.

Despite the recession during the 1980s, Mansell & Associates bought 15 companies and expanded the number of its agents from 50 to 175.

Then the prosperous 1990s hit, and Mansell & Associates mushroomed from 175 agents to 625. The firm currently has 16 offices in Utah and is the largest locally owned real-estate firm in the state. Net income has gone up by 43 percent during the past three years.

From 1997 to 1999, the firm's net sales have gone up by 11 percent, total assets rose by 25 percent and the net owner's equity jumped by 63 percent.

For his part, Mansell has insisted on a high level of integrity in his business. Mansell & Associates was the first real-estate firm in the state to get the Better Business Bureau's Ethics in Business Award.

Mansell & Associates also created an academy to educate agents and has developed "virtual tours" on the Internet of its listings.

Besides his family life and church involvement, Mansell also has found time for politics, and since 1995 has been a state senator.