For Ron Fromm, chairman of Brown Shoe Co., finding and nurturing talent has been the best part of his 26-year career at the St. Louis footwear powerhouse.
“My background is in finance and accounting,” said Fromm, 62. “[However], my passion is engaging people to make a difference.”
That talent was apparent from the start. Fromm met former Famous Footwear President Brian Cook in the mid-1980s, when Fromm was employed at a consulting firm contracted by the shoe chain to oversee its satellite operations, which included a store fixtures and graphics business. Cook hired him in 1986 as director of finance, and six years later he moved up to EVP and CFO. “The best part was that I concentrated on what Brian didn’t like to do,” said Fromm. “Nothing is more precious to me than Famous Footwear. It’s where I cut my teeth and incurred my bruises and had more fun than one could imagine.”
From his first day on the job, Fromm took on a range of duties in marketing, information systems and distribution. Eventually he helped the company focus on its strongest ventures. Early on, he successfully shed the company’s outside businesses and began moving its manufacturing overseas.
“Ron brought Brown Shoe back and made it a leader in the industry [once again],”said Doug Koch, SVP and chief talent and strategy officer for Brown Shoe. “He helped bring back the integrity of what Brown was and built an infrastructure so it was on firm footing going forward.”
His ability to successfully juggle responsibilities earned him the title of president of wholesale at Brown Shoe in 1998. Just a year later, he was named chairman, CEO and president. Fromm credits his longevity at the company to its varied brands and projects. “The freshness at Brown kept me there,” he said. “It allowed me to play different roles and participate in many ways.”
He stepped down as CEO and president in 2011 but kept the chairman position. He continues to maintain an office there, and said he does not consider himself retired.
“Ron loves the shoe business, and it’s been an interwoven part of his life for the better part of three decades,” said Diane Sullivan, who took over as president and CEO. “Anyone who has worked with him knows his dedication is intense and has always spanned a broad spectrum — from day-to-day aspects of the business to helping shape the future of the industry. He spent his time at Brown Shoe in much the same way, working to make a more-than-century-old company more relevant for the future.”
For Fromm, the shoe business isn’t just about the bottom line. He’s been active in its social causes, receiving FFANY’s Jodi Fisher Humanitarian Award in 2010 for his commitment to Shoes on Sale. Under his stewardship, Brown became a pink benefactor, annually contributing $500,000 in shoes. Currently holding the title of chairman emeritus at FFANY, he will serve on the organization’s financial committee beginning in 2013.
His philanthropic activities also include serving on the board of directors of Two Ten Footwear Foundation from 1998 until 2011, and had one stint as chairman. In 2008, he was awarded the organization’s T. Kenyon Holly Award for excellence in humanitarian achievements. Fromm even brought his wife, Cheri, into the footwear fold with the establishment of the Ron and Cheri Leadership Forum at Two Ten, designed to help industry insiders network.
“He’s positive, affirmative and team-oriented,” said Two Ten President Neal Newman. “He has no ego that needs to be massaged. His concern is for the footwear [members] as a community.”
Fromm also works closely with the United Way of Greater St. Louis, where he is a member of the board of directors; the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative, where he is chairman; and the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, of which Brown Shoe is a member.
“No matter what organization he’s associated himself with, Ron has constantly given his time and resources to the improvement of the industry,” said Matt Priest, president of the FDRA. “He encompasses all it means to be a true servant and leader.”