By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
When Darlene Wilson was appointed to the Birmingham Airport Authority board last week by Mayor Randall Woodfin, she was described in a press release as a “rising star on the city’s entrepreneurial scene.”
Wilson is owner and managing principal of Relay Accounting Management (RAM), a Birmingham-based firm that provides consulting, business coaching, and accounting management services. She serves as chairwoman of the board of directors for REV Birmingham, which creates vibrant commercial districts around the city. She also is treasurer for the Wellhouse Birmingham, which provides support services for women sexually exploited through human trafficking.
Being appointed to the airport board with three other city leaders—Regions Senior Vice President David Germany, Shipt CEO Bill Smith, and philanthropist and retired Alabama Power Co. executive Bobbie Knight—is another avenue by which Wilson can help build a better city.
“It was quite humbling,” she said. “I feel that there are many great people out here that are civic leaders and involved in their communities. I’m really excited to be a part of it because I’m very excited about the community and all things economic development … because I think Birmingham is doing some great things.”
Love for Numbers
Wilson, 46, has more than 20 years of experience in accounting—nearly 13 of which come from owning her business.
She’s always had a love for numbers. Her parents, Homer and Loretta, owned a convenience store and were also real estate investors in Lake Charles, La., where she was raised. Their store was in a commercial shopping plaza that her parents owned and where they leased the rest of the property out to other businesses. Beginning at age 11, Wilson worked in the store.
“If as a child I had been able to articulate what I loved, I would’ve known as early as 10 or 11 years old that I would be an accountant,” she said. “The main thing I loved doing in my parents’ business was the numbers. I enjoyed taking inventory. I did the pricing of the groceries. I would list the items and list the wholesale cost, and my parents would tell me what the increase in price for retail was. Then I’d list that and price the groceries.”
From there, Wilson was on her way to a career in business.
“I would have to say that my parents … and their work ethic prepared me for who I am,” she said. “My father, [who passed four years ago], was my mentor, my confidant. He was definitely the person I went to for all things business, and he was the person who guided me when I got ready to break away from corporate America.
“The preparation of being an entrepreneur really evolved from my parents. I can’t say that during the early parts of my career I knew that I would be an entrepreneur, but I definitely knew I was going to be an accountant.”
Wilson attended St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles. Growing up she was an avid softball player, having played since the age of 7. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
“There wasn’t much of a college life directly at UAB [in the late ’80s, early ’90s], but I had a very fulfilled college experience because I had great friends and met a lot of great people while I was attending UAB,” she said.
After graduating, Wilson went into corporate banking and in 1995 attended the University of Montevallo, where she received her accounting degree. And she was focused.
“I was working full time and going to school full time, but it was great for me because at that time I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “It was important to me because I was paying my way through school, and during that time is when I became a parent. So, I was parenting, working full time, and going to school full time.”
While still working at an accounting firm, Wilson began to think about running her own business.
“My clients planted the seed for me to be an entrepreneur because it was one of those things where [someone] might see something in you that you don’t see in yourself at that time,” she said. “It manifested in a way that, for me, it became both the challenge that was ahead and that I was up for and a lifestyle change.”
Wilson purchased RAM’s current location in West End and refurbished the building. The company opened in January 2006, initially as a lifestyle business because she was a parent and wanted to make time for her son.
“It was very important for me to be a part of his life,” she said. “It was actually the most important thing. My career was really secondary simply because the accounting world can be very demanding in terms of your hours, and I wanted to have some balance. I needed to be a mother and I needed to work, so the business really just evolved as a result of me needing a real lifestyle change.”
Wilson’s son, Christian, is now 19 years old. RAM has grown up, as well.
The company is a complete outsourced accounting business that includes financial forecasts and projections; budget preparation; bookkeeping; payroll accounting; tax preparation; and payment services. It provides accounting services to businesses that do not have onsite accounting departments, handling anything from full CFO services to bookkeeping, payroll, sales tax payments, and tax preparation. RAM’s clients include small businesses like restaurants, medical practices, bars, nonprofit entities, and funeral homes; and it has five employees, three full-time and two part-time.
Wilson credits her success to her team, which includes a great mentor, business coach, and advisory board, “so I do not rely on myself,” she said.