After more than a decade as executive director of the Minnesota Commercial Association of Realtors, Dara Rudick resigned in 2012 to launch her own "association management" company, Management HQ.

"It was a tough decision, because I loved my work at MNCAR," Rudick said. "But I knew I wanted to have a broader impact and I liked the challenge of starting a new business. It still feels like an experiment sometimes to me, but so far the experiment is working."

Rudick, as CEO, is still paying herself less than $100,000-plus salary-bonus package she got during the good years at the association of 1,200 commercial Realtors, but she's built a business of eight employees and a contractor who provide several services to associations that range from accounting to strategy to event planning.

"You never know if it will pay off as a business owner," said Rudick, the daughter of an Ohio small-business family who just added the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). "I'm making a living wage and I'm trying to build a company by investing in good people."

Most recently, Rudick hired Kevin Ward as president. Ward, 40, is a veteran of GE and Johnson Wax. He also ran the National Black MBA Association, where he was responsible for a double-digit increase in revenue, and, most recently, the Forward Group, an executive coaching and training company he started. Clients include Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Duke University. Ward attended the University of Cincinnati on an athletic scholarship and holds a master's degree in divinity from United Theological Seminary.

"We want to diversify our client base going forward, and I want us to become an international company," Ward said. "I was drawn to this situation to help associations thrive."

The five-year plan is to grow slowly and profitably over five years to a company of 25 or so people serving 15-20 local and national associations. This year, Management HQ will manage client-association budgets that total more than $2.4 million.

Ward and Rudick, 41, met last year while serving as mentors at North High School. And they've hired their first "Step-Up" summer intern, Dijon McCain, a Henry High graduate who heads to college in September.

Calling it a career at energy-saving nonprofit

One of Minnesota's energy-saving ­pioneers is planning to retire.

Sheldon Strom, founder of the Center for Energy and Environment in Minneapolis, told friends last week that he will step down as its 35-year president after the search for a replacement is completed in 2016.

The center has helped thousands of homes and businesses cut their heating and electric bills by offering financing and expertise, including the Home Energy Squad and commercial building recommissioning services. Its researchers and policy experts helped make efficiency and clean-energy policies for the state.

It began as the Minneapolis Energy Office in 1979, amid the nation's "energy crisis," a fuel-price panic triggered by the Iranian revolution. Ten years later, the city office was spun off into a nonprofit that grew to more than 80 employees. The center's funding comes from utility efficiency program contracts, grants and foundations.

In an interview, Strom, 70, said he is still amazed today, as he was in 1979, at how much energy can be saved through efficiency. The center's utility-sponsored programs have saved the equivalent of 10 years of electricity from the Prairie Island nuclear power plant, he said.

"That is a lot and we keep saving it," he added.

As the nation transitions to a low-carbon economy, the center's work on efficiency will be more important than ever, Strom told friends in a letter last week.

"I see this as an exciting time, both for me and the organization that I love," he wrote.


Abra consolidates in the auto body trade

Privately held Abra Auto Body & Glass may be the most acquisitive Minnesota company in the hot mergers market of the last several years.

CEO Duane Rouse said in an interview for our July 27 "deals" report (, that Abra has completed or has pending more than 50 acquisitions of 200-plus collision-and-repair centers.

Abra, with revenue of about $900 million this year and 311 body shops in 22 states, wants to be a national consolidator in a fragmented industry that boasts 35,000 centers.

Abra last year was acquired by majority-owner Hellman & Friedman, a private equity fund in San Francisco, along with Abra's senior management team, from another private equity firm, Palladium Equity Partners. It owned Abra for three years. Abra may eventually go public through a stock offering.

Cookie Cart expands from North Side

Cookie Cart, the North Side nonprofit bakery that employs scores of urban youth, has purchased a building at 946 Payne Av., in St. Paul that it will open in 2017.

The business-backed, 1988-vintage enterprise has commenced a $3.2 million capital campaign to cover acquisition and renovation costs.

A capital campaign to raise the $3.2 million necessary to renovate the building is underway and the organization hopes to open the bakery space sometime in 2017.

"We look forward to working with our new neighbors on the East Side to transform the lives of more teens," said Matt Halley, executive director of Cookie Cart. Cookie Cart has expanded to St. Paul through several connections, including Union Depot's annual holiday bake sale. Cookie Cart also supplies the new TargetExpress store in Highland Park, and on Aug. 7 will be the featured nonprofit at the St. Paul Saints game. Cookie Cart plans a pilot program on job-readiness and life skills at Johnson High School.

This year, Cookie Cart will work with about 200 15- to-18-year-old students through its "earn-while-you-learn" approach to a paycheck and teaching life skills.

Bonoff and McQuirter recognized by retail federation

Roberta Bonoff of seven-store Creative Kidstuff and Lonnie McQuirter of Lonvigson's Service Center in Minneapolis were among 50 finalists recognized as "America's Retail Champions" by the National Retail Federation at its annual conference last weekend in Washington D.C. The small businesses were recognized for their advocacy work on behalf of small business with local and national elected officials.