Christian Frederick Martin, IV, was born on July 8, 1955. He grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and his familiarity with the family business was limited to occasional visits to his grandfather, Christian Frederick Martin, III, and to summer jobs working at the factory. As a child, Chris took guitar lessons but “still doesn’t play in public.” For a while, he considered a career in marine biology but when he attended UCLA, he majored in economics. While in Los Angeles, Chris apprenticed at Westwood Music, building a classical guitar and familiarizing himself with the retail end of the business. After just a year, he headed back East to work in the guitar factory where he learned more about the design and construction of the Martin guitar and became familiar with many of the different operations. He attended the local community college at night and, after 18 months; he transferred to Boston University’s School of Management, earning a bachelor degree in 1978.
Chris then moved to Nazareth where he became more involved in the company, first as assistant to the president, then as vice president of marketing. When
C. F. Martin, III passed away in 1986 at the age of 91, the heir apparent was still learning about the Martin Guitar Company and he was inexperienced in running a business. Chris was also only 30 years old. Nonetheless, after a short transition, the somewhat hesitant members of the board named him chairman.
The Martin Guitar Company was not doing well when Chris took over. The preceding decade had been one of decline for the organization. Following an expensive factory expansion, there had been a severe economic recession and a strike by Martin employees. The effect of the economic downturn was compounded by a change in popular taste from folk music to electric guitars, disco and digital keyboards. In an effort to keep up with the times, the company had diversified aggressively, acquiring a drum company, a banjo manufacturing firm, a guitar string company and a guitar factory in Sweden. Of all its acquisitions, only the string company was to survive.
Shortly before Chris took over, The Martin Guitar Company cut its work force. In 1982 production had dropped to just 3,153 instruments, the lowest since World War II. Following C. F. Martin, III’s death, serious consideration was given to either selling or liquidating the company.
The new, young Chairman was determined to put the company back on track. After taking over a family business that had been in existence for over 150 years, Chris did not want to be the one to write the final chapter. He took a short course in strategic planning, was personally transformed by Outward Bound, learned public speaking and eventually re-focused the company and its employees on its primary strengths: steel stringed acoustic guitars and strings.
Chris believes in a team approach and he demands that management and employees be involved in The Martin Guitar Company’s annual strategic plan. This document is not simply prepared and filed, but is carefully created and ultimately implemented and embraced at every level. Chris regularly joins both management and hourly workers on Outward Bound programs, believing that the experience forces people to look both to themselves and members of their team for cooperative survival.
Chris’ decade-long efforts to turn the company around has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. Martin has re-established its reputation worldwide as the builder of the highest quality guitars. Eric Clapton and Paul Simon are among the countless artists who have chosen to be involved in designing new limited edition guitars. The process is difficult and time consuming, but it’s also rewarding. Interestingly, some of the biggest competition for Martin comes from used Martin guitars which are sought after by both performers and collectors.
The Martin Guitar Company is thriving under Chris’ direction. His team-oriented management style is friendly and personal, yet firm and direct. Chris travels extensively in order to stay abreast of market trends and to hold instructional clinics at Martin dealerships around the world.
On May 19, 1990 Chris married Diane S. Repyneck, district justice from Lower Saucon Township and Hellertown, Pa. Several days after Chris had appeared in her courtroom for a traffic violation, he called to ask Diane to consider having dinner with a lawbreaker. She consented.
On September 13th, 2004 Claire Frances Martin (“C. F. Martin !”) was born. She is the 7th generation of the Martin family in America and of course, there are high hopes that one day she will wish to be involved in managing the company that bears her name.