Birmingham Museum of Art: Ram Tool, founded in 1967 in Birmingham, Alabama, will celebrate 50 years in business this year. the company began with just two employees and sales of under $1 million, and has grown to more than 950 employees and supplies 35 markets in 12 states and Washington D.C. In a nutshell, to what do you attribute this success?
Maye Head Frei: Since our founding in 1967, Ram Tool has stayed true to our core values. Our customers have come to depend on us to deliver heroic service with a sense of urgency and conduct all of our business with integrity. For us, these are not just catch words on the bottom of the website or on a poster in our warehouses. We strive to live up to our core values every day in all our branches.
BMA: Similar to Ram Tool’s growth over the years, the Birmingham Museum of Art started with a small collection of 15 Italian paintings, and has grown to a collection of more than 27,000 objects spanning the globe. What do you view as a common thread to the success of both institutions?
MHF: When we talk about the growth of Ram Tool, we say we have grown “organically” through green field start-ups or through strategic acquisitions of dominant players in key markets. We have never had to leverage outside capital for our growth and therefore are fortunate enough to continue to be able to determine our path forward. I think the Museum has had a similar trajectory in that we can be very picky about additions to the collection. The strength of the collection allows the Museum to be strategic and selective about the areas in which it brings new works into its domain. Amazing additions, like the Buten collection of ceramics, can be assimilated on a grand scale while our curators can also pool funds for the real “wow factor” pieces like Kerry James Marshall’s School of Beauty, School of Culture.
BMA: What is Ram Tool’s corporate philanthropic philosophy? With all the great causes out there, how do you decide what to support?
MHF: You nailed it when you said “all the great causes out there.” We are surrounded by so many driven people doing so many wonderful things for our community that sometimes it is hard to figure out a “strategy.” Here in Birmingham, we try and support institutions that lead to the vibrancy of the city so we can continue to attract and retain great talent to our organization. We also engage in ways so that our employees can get involved by allowing people to volunteer while “on the clock” at all sorts of events around town.
BMA: In addition to Ram Tool being a corporate partner, you serve on the Board of Directors of the Birmingham Museum of Art and you and your husband Bernard support the Museum personally. What role does art play in your family’s life, and why is it important to you to see the Museum thrive?
MHF: Since moving back to town 20 years ago, the Museum has been a constant source of exploration and learning for us. We have attended such wonderful events through the years and now it is so fun to watch our children grow up exposed to the opportunities for learning and growth that the Museum provides. From yearly events as diverse as the Rushton piano concerts to the Indian festival of Holi to the amazing guest lectures from visiting artists to the throw down fun of the Museum Ball, we consider ourselves so lucky to have such a gem right here in our city! Now through the Corporate Partners program, we are able to share the Museum with our Ram Tool family by giving access to events to people who may not have the Museum on their radar and it is just great to hear their enthusiasm when they come back after these visits.