There are a lot of different ways to get big. Just ask the companies on Financial Planning's 3rd annual list of RIA leaders.

Take Creative Planning of Leawood, Kan., which is one of the most intriguing stories on this year's list. President Peter Mallouk says he bought a practice with $30 million in assets under management in 2004. Its subsequent strong performance during the 2008-2009 recession propelled enough word-of-mouth referrals, he says, that the figure has grown to $7.8 billion this year - without acquisitions.

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