Celebrating 20 Years at the WBC: Looking Back
An Interview with the Former WBC Executive Director Ramona Rudart
Q: What was it like when the Women’s Business Center first started?
A: Because all of our work had to be done within the time parameters of the OWBO grant, the initial phase of the WBC felt like building a road while trying to drive on it.
Q: How was starting a nonprofit similar to starting a for-profit company?
A: Starting the Women’s Business Center at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce in 1997 was much like pioneering a new business. Writing the grant proposal to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) was much like writing a business plan and financing proposal. Once the grant was approved, seeking sponsorship from the initial group of founding partners felt a lot like selling investors on a new venture. That accomplished, we had to recruit and hire staff, negotiate office space, implement programs and market services to clients—the WBC’s “customers.”
Q: Who were some of the mentors and supporters that helped you through this process?
A: This challenging task was without question a collaborative effort. Jean Fox at the Utah SBA office coached me through the grant writing process. Stan Parish, then CEO of the Chamber, gave his full support and assisted with fundraising. During our very first fundraising visit, Brad Baldwin of Chase Bank accepted our proposal to become a founding partner before we even left his office! Soon thereafter, we signed Utah Technology Finance Corporation and American Express as founding partners.
Q: How has the WBC changed since its beginning?
A: Today, it feels like our early efforts occurred during the Stone Age. For example, one grant imperative was to provide Internet training. Our part-time trainer taught classes with rudimentary topics like “What is a Search Engine?” It is, in fact, in the technology arena that the WBC’s most remarkable progress has been made. Now the Center even has its own website! With online training and statewide virtual services being offered, more clients can be served more effectively. I see technology-based services as a key growth area in the Center’s future.
Q: What else has changed?
A: Part of our grant funds were earmarked for the Salt Lake Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). NAWBO was to provide mentors for the Women’s Network for Entrepreneurial Training (WNET). Nancy Mitchell, whom I hired as Assistant Director, was tasked with managing the WNET program. Later, when I left the WBC to return to life as a business owner, Chamber CEO Larry Mankin brought Nancy on as the Executive Director. Nancy served in that position for ten years and deserves much of the credit for the Center’s survival. Obviously a great hire!
Professional Automotive Equipment, Inc.
A Utah native, Ramona earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Utah, but soon found a niche in the world of business. For the past 40 years, she has co-owned a group of companies in the automotive and industrial equipment industry. During the 90s, she served as senior vice president of operations at the Salt Lake Chamber and later became the first executive director of the chamber’s Women’s Business Center, which provides counseling and training for business owners.
Ramona serves on the governing board of the Assistance League® of Salt Lake City and the Workers Compensation Fund of Utah’s Customer Advisory Council. She previously served on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s International Board of Directors and other boards, including the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Salt Lake Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, People Helping People and the Utah State Privatization Policy Board. Awards include the NAWBO Utah Woman Business Owner of the Year, Pathfinder Award, Athena Businesswoman of the Year and Viewmont High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
At present she is engaged in entrepreneurial efforts, with no plans to retire. In addition to being long-time business partners, Ramona and her husband, Michael, have three grown children and one grandson.