Michael Schweitzer, who founded Canadian reseller firm The RAM Group as the IT industry picked up steam in the 1980s, died earlier this week, the company confirmed Tuesday.

Colleagues and employees were scheduled to meet for a reception

at the company’s Vaughan, Ont.-based headquarters Wednesday following funeral services for Schweitzer, who passed away following a stroke three days ago. He was 61.

Schweitzer was one of the Canadian distribution industry’s most familiar faces, having developed The RAM Group from a seller of computer ribbon into a $125 million company with close to 300 employees and 17,000 service locations across Canada and the U.S. Though the company was launched 20 years ago, much of its recent growth came through a spate of acquisitions in 2000 and 2001. These included Toronto-based Questech, Ottawa-based Bloom MicroTech and Genicom’s $60 million Enterprising Service Solutions Company (ESSC), which added a considerable number of employees and service locations.

RAM Group executive vice-president Bob Hanna described Schweitzer as a very strong personality who handled most corporate functions himself until he began building a core management team five years ago.

“”A lot of his philosophy has certainly come to be true over the last couple of years, particularly during the hard times when margins are squeezed and business is dropping,”” he said. “”Things that he focused on, like cost control, not spending money that didn’t have a return on it certainly came into play.””

Born in Bronx, N.Y. in 1942, Harvard Business School graduate Schweitzer came to Canada in the 1970s to helm the restaurant division of General Foods International. Hanna said he had only a few relatives left in the United States, whom he was able to visit only rarely. “”RAM was his family,”” he said.

Other RAM employees agreed, including Nancy Andreetta, whom Schweitzer hired on a part-time basis when she was still a teenager. At that time, the company had only two full time employees and two part-time students, she said.

“”He always looked out for me and treated me like the daughter he never had,”” she said in an e-mail message to ITBusiness.ca.

RAM is privately owned and Schweitzer was the sole proprietor. Hanna said he and six other managers are running the company on an interim basis until the estate is settled, but he expected no management changes.

In an e-mail to employees, long-time friend of Schweitzer David Klein tried to comfort and reassure the RAM team.

“”The better you knew Michael the sadder you will be. I share your sense of loss. He will never be replaced in my life,”” Klein wrote. “”One thing Michael made clear to me is that if he died while he was still running RAM he wanted the company to continue. He wanted the employees to benefit from the investment of time and energy and hard work that they had made.””

Schweitzer had been developing the management team in preparation for his retirement.

“”I’m not certain he ever would have retired, to be honest,”” Hanna added, noting Schweitzer’s dogged work ethic. “”He would quite often work 20-hour days. It was not unusual to get an e-mail from Michael that said 3:30 in the morning.””

Last year the RAM Group received a top sales award from Ingram Micro and was honoured by Network Associates as one of largest Canadian integrators of its Sniffer product.

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