Within a 10-year period, Heather Manley has become the owner of three successful businesses, two of which she founded. And yet she always wants to take on more. In 2006, Manley started working at On-Demand Group (ODG), an IT consulting firm started by her father, Richard Manley, in 1996. Two years later, having just turned 30, Heather, with her brother Sean, purchased the firm. At that time, ODG had annual revenue of about $1 million. Since the buyout, ODG has grown at an annual rate of 20 percent to 40 percent. In 2016, revenues exceeded $10 million.
Meanwhile, Manley also is running Heather’s Dirty Goodness, a spice company with five rubs, which she launched in 2011; and Crooked Water Spirits, a boutique distiller of bourbon, vodka and gin, which she started two years later. Both companies are based in Minneapolis.
Manley has also been active in local women business organizations and served as president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). “I told Heather to put her name in the hat for president,” says Jill Johnson, president and founder of Minneapolis-based Johnson Consulting Services. Johnson saw that Manley, though only 30 at the time, had the traits of a leader: executive presence, outstanding insight and business savvy.
Manley became president of NAWBO’s Minnesota chapter in 2011 and worked with Johnson to launch the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame. “Heather’s insight and knowledge about food created elegance and ambiance and brought the event to the elevated level it needed to be at,” Johnson says.
Johnson also notes Manley’s desire to help women gain major recognition and help transform them into leaders and business owners.
“I consistently meet with women looking to start a business or fast-track their growth of their existing business,” Manley says. “I also speak on panels with the Women’s Business Development Center on how women can leverage their certification to partner with big business.”
Heather Manley was featured as one of Minnesota’s young billionaires in TCB’s March 2014 issue. Read the story at bit.ly/2iQpkXM.
2006 – Heather Manley joins On-Demand Group (ODG).
2009 – Manley is NAWBO Young Business Owner of the Year.
2011 – Manley launches Heather’s Dirty Goodness, a spice company.
2013 – Under Manley’s leadership, ODG creates subsidiary Diversify IT Inc., a managed service provider.
2013 – Manley launches Minneapolis-based Crooked Water Spirits.
2014 – Crooked Water is named Women Business Enterprise of the Year by the Women’s Business Development Center of Minnesota.
2016 – Massachusetts-based Initiative for a Competitive Inner City names ODG as one of the nation’s fastest-growing inner-city companies.
Q & A
First experience as a leader
My first opportunity as a leader was at [Bloomington-based IT services company] Cable Imaging Solutions. I started as a second-shift supervisor, and after six months, I was promoted to general manager. Other people wanted the job and were qualified, but my boss offered the position to me. It created a unique opportunity for me—a 24-year-old female in the manufacturing industry—to manage production for a $20 million company.
I was only at Cable Imaging a few months before I realized there were major issues within management and operations. There was growing discontent with the staff, and projects were improperly quoted, which led to being unprofitable or late. I told one of the senior leaders about these issues. My only goal was to let leadership know what was wrong. They were completely unaware of what was happening. Speaking up and doing the right thing is not always easy, but it can also lead to opportunities.
My willingness to take chances and have experiences leads to so many fun things. When I decided to make a bourbon, I just picked up the phone and started asking questions. Three years ago, I entered a cupcake contest in Minneapolis because I love to cook. I ended up going to the national competition in Las Vegas.