A single mom with huge responsibilities as a district manager for Avon Cosmetics, she didn’t seem like good a candidate for starting a business. Plus, it was 2007, and she was a woman in construction. The odds weren’t exactly good.
Kramer doesn’t stop at “you can’t,” though. And lucky for her. Today she’s head of Ri Ky Roofing, a mid-sized company with offices in five states. In seven years, she’s launched sheet metal and solar divisions, seizing on grumblings from general contractors and building owners to put clients’ needs -and their warranties -under one roof. Literally.
“When they say ‘you can’t,’ prove that you can. I’ve been told you can’t so many times in seven years. And I love it,” she said.
The advice Kramer heeded instead? “Now is the time,” words Rudy Giuliani hanunered home in a 2006 talk with Colin Powell in Portland. Stop treating life goals like the good China, he said. Stop waiting for special occasions.
The words hit Kramer so hard she ended up at a country club with a glass of merlot and “the cliche bar napkin,” scribbling under the header Ri Ky Roofing. It was an adlib of the names of her two sons-Kyle and Riley -a name that stuck.
“A woman bartender was standing behind the bar. She said, ‘I’ve owned a lot of businesses and I’d be glad to help you,'” said Kramer. They talked for two hours. And this may be Kramer’s secret sauce.
“She’s a very sharp, smart businesswomen and on a personal level she’s absolutely adorable … she is one of the sweetest women I’ve ever worked with,” said Laurie Kendall, president and CEO of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. Kendall adds that Kramer’s endearing personality belies a pragmatic thinker who keeps goals in focus as a board member for the ABC.
The tough yet effervescent Kramer humbly ascribes her success to other people, and says she likes to surround herself with lots of them: mentors, friends, coaches and supporters. She names Kendall, for example.
Also, her own excellent staff. Jim Steiner at The Small Business Administration. Alma Garnett, who paved the way for women in construction at Hunter Panels. Even the Women Business Enterprise program, through which she’s certified in three of her five locations.
But it’s hard to turn too much of the credit away from Kramer, whose workday starts at 4 a.m. and often doesn’t end until 10 p.m., seven days a week. And who seems to build those empowering relationships effortlessly, and to inspire the best in those she hires.
Her advice for starting entrepreneurs is to do the same. Any other advice just for women? Read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, she says.
And “Do deals on the golf course and smoke cigars, too.” She’s not kidding. Kramer is a regular at El Gaucho, where she’s known as The Woman on the Wall. She’s the only woman with a VIP cigar box in the Cigar Room.
In this way, the Pittsburgh native still has that Iron City moxy. She says it was the “work hard, play hard” Oregon ethos that drew her west from there. Play time now often consists of cheering for her two boys, both of whom are absorbed in sports, as her office walls will tell: They are nearly covered in framed team photos.
Kramer gives some of the rest of her time to the Silverton Junior Baseball Board, where she donated $6,000 for bats, helmets and gear for catchers. She also volunteers promoting membership and sponsoring events for Commercial Real Estate for Women, and serves on a council for the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. In her free time, she runs a 20-acre farm.
She admits that balancing it all can be tough. And that it’s especially tough at times being female.
“Women are naturally multitaskers and I think as female executives, we hold ourselves to a higher standard” because of that, she says.
But she says her most difficult challenge is deciding how and where to grow in business. And knowing when being the first to take a risk -like entering a market early, as with Ri Ky -will pay off.