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Executive Profile

Margaret Rudd of Margaret Rudd & Associates Realtors

By William DiNome

In the early 1990s, were you to perform an Internet search by typing in the unqualified search string, “real estate,” you would have found Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc. Realtors among only five other real estate agencies listed anywhere. Hers was the first commercial web site in Brunswick County.

Having read somewhere that the worlds' most famous elf had his own web site, Margaret Rudd, the company's founder, thought, “If Santa Claus has a web site, why can't we?” She immediately called upon her computer guru, Dan Wise, to explain the Internet to her.

“She sat there and said, `I'm going to keep my mouth shut' — which is unusual for her,” recalls Wise, who runs a computer consulting firm. “When I finished she said, `We want it. We want it now.' I said, well, I don't know what it's going to cost. She said, `I really don't care what it's going to cost.' She recognized the potential for it that I didn't recognize.”

For Wise, helping to develop Rudd & Associates' e-commerce business was an unprecedented challenge. Today Rudd's computer server receives upwards of 200 e-mail queries a day (sorted and trafficked electronically), and the payoff has stunned even the forward-thinking Rudd. At a conference in 1998, she reported garnering $30,000 in rentals via the web during March. Some people thought she had inadvertently added an extra zero to the number, but no. This year, Rudd's web-generated revenue for February totaled a cool $60,000.

Luck has had little to do with Rudd's success. Her career has been marked by good timing, vision, persistence and a sense for fun. A native of Haw River, Rudd first visited Southport in 1959 as a summer sojourner and fell in love with the sleepy village, relocating there permanently in 1970. She says, “I just came and never left.”

After earning a bachelor's degree in recreation and park administration at N.C. State University and then her broker's license in 1973, Rudd went to work as a sales agent for Willard Ferrell, whose idiosyncrasies have secured for him near-legendary status among the area's real estate people. Their business location at Long Beach could hardly have been worse at that time. Situated at the end of a long road and on prime, near-the-beach property, the office attracted people looking for vacation homes but few searching for primary residential real estate. “People would pass all the other real estate offices before they ever got to us,” Rudd says with a rueful chuckle. She and her husband, Buddy, even resorted to hanging wallpaper for the local newspaper editor as a trade-out for advertising.

But Rudd recognized the region's potential and stuck with it. With Willard's son, Don, she opened the office she still occupies in Southport in 1981 as Ferrell Real Estate of Southport. She bought Ferrell's share of the business two years later, and Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc. Realtors was born, in essence becoming Willard Ferrell's competition — even while their names shared the same roadside sign. (Rather than replace the sign, Willard's characteristic solution was to paint out his name.)

Rudd's initial staff and next-door neighbor, Sissy Rhyne, became corporate secretary-treasurer. Joining them was Rudd's long-time friend, Sue Franks, who had come to Brunswick County with Rudd in the 1970s. Rhyne and Franks are with the company to this day. The company primarily serves Southport, Oak Island and Boiling Spring Lakes and was once among a very few real estate companies in the market. Rudd has since been joined by many competitors, and while the relative portions of the market pie have shrunk, her slice is now more valuable than her larger portion once was.

Margaret Rudd, 53, cuts an impressive figure. Tall and impeccably dressed, she is an extrovert with a winning smile and a musical Piedmont accent. Golf, photography and horticulture are among her serious pastimes. She moves as quickly through ideas as she does through space, whether on foot or in her sleek black Jaguar, and one must stay sharp to keep up. A tour of her two offices — at Southport and Yaupon Beach — is a blur of faces, names and introductions. The activity is that of a beehive, with Margaret Rudd the beneficent queen.

A model of effectiveness, she exemplifies a paradigm of abundance in everything she does, secure in the belief that growth and competition benefit everyone. Early in her Internet explorations, one of the first things she did was to invite members of the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce to her office for a “Business After Hours” meeting. Dan Wise explains, with undisguised admiration, “The amazing thing about Margaret is that she turned right around and allowed everybody, competitors and otherwise, to be introduced to the Internet concept. If I had to sum up one thing that she does — she opens the door and the rest of us walk through. She provides opportunities.”

Her clients have known that for years. In her office festooned with plaques, awards, trophies and memorabilia stands a file cabinet, its top drawer an overstuffed, unkempt collection of accolades from satisfied clients — morale-boosts for when she's having a bad day, she explains. Riffling through the thicket of paper, she produces a favorite from 1997: “Dear Margaret, thanks so very much for all you have done throughout the years. Imagine selling empty lots for lots more than our beloved furnished cottage! Long Beach has been a glorious investment. Only wish Jack were here to thank you too.”

That Rudd treasures such long-term relationships is apparent in the makeup of her staff, consisting of some 30 people. One gets the impression that practically everyone employed at Rudd & Associates is either an age-old friend or close relative. Rudd's manager broker, Kim Whiteheart, in charge of the beach-office location, started with the company in 1986 when she was barely into her twenties. Rudd's husband, Buddy, is property manager, handling rentals. At one time or another, all three of their children have worked for them, as do Dan Wise's son and daughter. The list goes on.

“It's changed my philosophy,” says Wise. “The family definitely can work together. Everyone who works here is treated like family, old friends that go back many years. Everybody adopts everybody else's kids.”

The “family” fold extends well beyond Rudd's own business. The list of her professional affiliations, civic and professional service, and awards is staggeringly long, understandable only in light of her dynamic pace and her famous decisiveness. “I have a short attention span,” she claims. “I want to get to the point.”

Karen Sphar, executive vice president of the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, has worked alongside Rudd since 1988 and says, “She is very organized, driven. You go to Margaret when you want something done and you don't want to worry about it. It will get done, and it will get done on time.”

Since serving as president of the chamber in 1989-90, Rudd assisted in identifying the right database software for the chamber's needs. “Usually I give her the hard things to do,” says Sphar.

“An absolute get-it-done woman,” says Paul G. Butler, director of North Carolina's Southeast (NCSE), one of seven economic development partnerships in the state. “With Margaret you get tangible, real results at the end of the day.”

He should know. When Rudd was appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt to the board of the regional economic development commission, she chaired its technology committee. At the time, the commission had one office and a lone PC. Utilizing her own staff, Rudd provided demonstrations for commission members as she had for her local chamber of commerce.

“She helped show the importance of computer school for developers,” Butler says, “and helped lead to the development of a web site for North Carolina's Southeast. She has been on the forefront.” The commission is now a fully computerized marketing dynamo. Prior to his 55th birthday, Paul Butler had never touched a PC. He says, “She saw [the technology] ahead of the curve and emerged as a natural leader — and I'm on fire about this now!”

Rudd is a member of the NCCBI Board of Directors.

Embracing new technology has become something of a Margaret Rudd hallmark. As the first Partner in Technology with South Brunswick Middle School, Rudd gave a group of technology-club students the rare opportunity to participate in the sometimes volatile process of designing an ad campaign. This “Graphic Experience” grew out of a golf-course conversation with Al Bishop, the technology teacher at South Brunswick, who wanted to provide his students with real-world design experience. Rudd agreed to give the students a shot at her beach rental brochure, but time was tight: from concept to completion, the students would have only two weeks. On deadline, the students formally presented three design concepts, but Rudd's staff asked for more time to decide. “No,” said Rudd. “We will make the decision in the next three minutes.” And so they did.

The final concept, refined by a professional designer, is a retro jewel that elicits nostalgia for earlier, more carefree beach days: In it, a young woman in a yellow bathing suit, knee-deep in the surf, holds a beach ball overhead. Near the company logo is the tagline, “The fun starts here!” alluding to Rudd's philosophy that real estate and property rental are essentially a hospitality industry.

The students' design has been integrated into Rudd & Associates' entire marketing concept this season, and largely due to this kind of partnership, South Brunswick Middle School in May was designated a 1999 Entrepreneurial School by Gov. Hunt. South Brunswick Middle School has since established partnerships with other area businesses, each receiving a Partners in Technology award.

These businesses now work as mentors with students in areas such as structural engineering, graphic design and electronics.

This approach just paid off as South Brunswick Middle School competed in the National Technology Student Association competition in Tulsa, Okla., in June. Competing against 45 other states and approximately 3,000 students, South Brunswick won more events than any other middle school in the country, becoming the top technology school in the nation. Characteristically, Rudd was in Tulsa cheering the students to victory. “She is a great role model and motivator for our students,” Bishop says.

For Margaret Rudd, the fun doesn't end there.

“I'm generally inclined toward growth and development,” she states. “When you have people traveling outside of our immediate area, spending money, I'd really rather them stay home and spend that money. And I would like for my daughters and sons-in-law to have economic opportunity here and not have to travel all the time. So I'm all about job creation. People have to have an opportunity to earn a living in something they enjoy.”

When the arrival of Wal-Mart in Southport fueled no small controversy, Rudd didn't mind the debate, noting that “the middle ground tends to prevail.” Citing certain large businesses that have shut down or moved out of Brunswick County, Rudd says, “The key is maintaining a steady employment base, giving the have-nots the opportunity to improve their lot.” Likewise, she says, when the national real estate franchises and developers enter the market, “no one thinks of the `mom and pop' real estate businesses. We don't view it as a threat; we view it as an opportunity. New development attracts people and creates sales, matures the market.”

Rudd, a self-avowed “political junky,” calls economic development her “hobby job.” Particularly proud of her work with North Carolina's Southeast, she points to the 23 businesses committed to sites in 11 regional counties from a total of 61 projects taken on by economic development group since 1995.

With public expenditures topping $4.4 million, NCSE helped create 2,174 jobs at a cost of $2,059 per job. Each NCSE dollar leveraged $28.60 in private-sector investment.

In Paul Butler's view, Rudd has contributed greatly to that record. In working with many interest groups, he says, “she has an understanding of the competitiveness and priorities from one locale to another.” Butler notes as an example that she recognizes the importance and contributions, as well as the challenges, of the pork industry and “didn't put her head in the sand. We've been extremely fortunate to have her.”

When Karen Sphar refers to Margaret Rudd as “very giving,” one senses that at this point in her career, Rudd is returning a favor — to individuals, to organizations, to the region itself that she so dearly loves.

“When I began my business,” Rudd says, “I wanted to have a nice place to work. And then I wanted to be able to provide for other people the opportunities that had been provided to me by Willard Ferrell. (Real estate) is a business that's custom-made for someone that likes people and doesn't mind working. The real estate business is a low-paying, easy job, but if you work at it, it is very rewarding.”

As far as fun is concerned, there's no end in sight for Rudd.

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. This article first appeared in the August 1999 issue of North Carolina magazine.


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