When it comes to giving, Ron Fromm doesn’t like to take all the credit.
According to the Brown Shoe Co. chairman and CEO, a culture of charity was instilled in him in his early years at the firm and continues to permeate throughout the company. In fact, Fromm said humbly, he’s simply following in the footsteps of other committed humanitarians at the company.
“George Warren Brown, [founder of Brown Shoe], set an example as a true supporter of the communities in which you live, work and play,” he said. “It’s that example that was set many decades before that continues to resonate in the character of Brown Shoe.”
Fromm will receive the FFANY Jodi Fisher Humanitarian Award on Wednesday, alongside co-honoree Sidney Kimmel, founder and chairman of Jones Apparel Group Inc.
“In my mind, first and foremost, this award really goes to Brown Shoe and the spirit in which they have supported FFANY and the Shoes on Sale event for all these years,” said Fromm.
While Brown has been involved in Shoes on Sale since its inception 17 years ago, the company deepened its involvement by becoming a major benefactor to the event in 2005. Since then, Brown has donated $500,000 in shoes each year. To date, Brown’s total company donations, including contributions from employees, is in the millions.
“Ron, as an individual and as [leader of the] company, every year has hung in there [with large donations],” said Joe Moore, president and CEO of FFANY.
Fromm said he owes a debt of gratitude to celebrities with shoe lines in the Brown family, including Fergie and Reba McEntire, who have helped to promote the event. “I’ve been fortunate in that we have some of the greatest celebrities who are part of our footwear portfolio,” he said. “They were touched and very willing to step up and become the public faces of the Shoes on Sale event [over the years].”
Beyond the acknowledgement of monies raised, Fromm said the humanitarian award holds a special meaning for him. “It is a special honor to be recognized [next to] Jodi Fisher. Jodi had a dream that has helped so many people. It’s an honor to even be mentioned in the same breath with [her, considering] what she started and what continues to this day.
“My family and I have had family members who have both survived cancer and passed from cancer,” Fromm added. “There is a special place that is reserved for thinking about them [in receiving this award]. It’s a special moment.”
While Fromm is modest about his contributions to cancer research, Dr. Timothy Eberlein, director of the St. Louis-based Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center — which receives donations from Brown, as well as FFANY — said he is awed by Fromm’s dedication to the cause. In fact, Eberlein said Fromm is directly responsible for helping thousands of cancer patients, and the research he has helped fund could assist many more.
“I can’t say enough wonderful things about Ron and the role he has played [in raising money for cancer research],” Eberlein said. “I happened to be out with him recently and I said to him, ‘You need to realize that for thousands of women you have made a major difference in their lives. On behalf of all of them, you deserve a big thank you.’ It’s a pretty phenomenal contribution he’s made.”
Eberlein said Fromm, Brown and FFANY have funded emerging technologies and scientific discoveries in the crucial early stages of their development. For example, Eberlein said the Siteman center had begun to sequence the genes associated with breast cancer to better understand the triggers of the disease. “That work would not have been possible without Shoes on Sale’s initial investment,” he said, adding that after the initial funding led to promising research results, the center was able to secure a grant from the National Institute of Health. “We’ve now turned that into a multimillion dollar NIH grant that has expanded and extended the work.”
Fromm and FFANY have also helped fund research for a breast cancer vaccine, currently in the first phase of clinical trials.
Eberlein said that these projects have contributed to significant breakthroughs. “We’re developing a vaccine that is specific to an individual cancer patient’s mutated genes,” he said.
Beyond cancer research, Fromm and Brown are also national sponsors of the March of Dimes, and longtime supporters of the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, both through corporate contributions and personal giving.
Still, Fromm is reluctant to accept praise for his work; rather, he said, he’s proud to have had the opportunity to assist others. “This is just part of the character of Brown Shoe,” he said, “and I’m humbled and privileged to be the guy who has been given this opportunity.”