By Olan Beam, Photography By John Walsh

C.F. Martin IV with 2 millionth guitar replica.

C.F. Martin IV with 2 millionth guitar replica.

C.F. Martin IV (Chris), CEO of C.F. Martin & Co. Guitar, speaks with pride, passion and confidence about his almost 185-year-old family business headquartered in Nazareth, Pa. You only have to watch the faces of guitar aficionados who visit the company headquarters, maybe better described as a pilgrimage, to realize that desire to build the best guitars – and confidence that they are – is still very much alive and well.

Martin co-workers at Nazareth, Pa., headquarters

Martin co-workers at Nazareth, Pa., headquarters

You would expect a sixth-generation Martin to have a passion for guitars embedded in his DNA, yet Chris said his passion was acquired through time. “I actually was not exposed to the business much growing up,” he said. “My parents divorced when I was very young, and I spent much of my youth in New Jersey with my mother and her parents. In fact, growing up I planned to be a marine biologist.”

Finding a Path

After high school, Chris was expected to go to college, so he decided on University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His father introduced him to a Los Angeles music store owner who agreed to have Chris work at his store while he was going to school. “I came into work and the owner told me, ‘Go up front and sell some guitars,’” Chris said. “I realized I didn’t know enough about guitars to sell them. So, he said, ‘Well, go in back and help them fix guitars.’ Of course, I couldn’t do that either. The good news was it made me understand I wanted to learn the guitar business – my heritage. So, I left UCLA and went back to Nazareth.”

Young Chris working in the Martin factory.

Young Chris working in the Martin factory.

Unexpected Turns

When Chris returned to Nazareth, he lived with his paternal grandfather, C.F. Martin III. Chris’s guitar education started when he worked in different stations throughout the guitar-making process at the Martin plant. He also experienced the challenges of managing the business by watching his father, who was the president at the time. “The core guitar business was healthy and profitable when we began making acquisitions,” Chris said. “It was the cash generator for us to expand into other things. But, those other things distracted my dad and his management team. Three out of four acquisitions failed. The guitar makers recognized the lack of attention, and they became unhappy with management. I learned some valuable but painful lessons.”

Leadership Training

After some of the management issues developed, Chris’s father retired and his grandfather ran the business. “My grandfather accelerated my understanding of the business and sparked my appreciation of guitar construction,” he explained. “We shared that same fascination with making guitars. My grandfather saw that fervor in me, and we developed a special relationship. I have a 12-year-old daughter, Claire Frances, and I hope she and I find a similar bond together with the family business.”

Chris understood it was alluring to leverage the core to acquire new businesses, to have firms eager to lend you money and companies wanting you to acquire their businesses and ideas. But, as in most successful businesses, focus and discipline were the real paths to success.

Christian Friedrich Martin; Chris with grandfather C.F. Martin III.

(Left to right) Founder Christian Friedrich Martin; Chris with grandfather C.F. Martin III.

Family is More Than Just the Name

“It was a tough time, but the trials I saw and experienced helped me learn how to lead a business,” Chris said. “First, focus on your core. C.F. Martin was and is a premier guitar maker. We lost our focus for a few years, but we regained it and that has fueled our brand value and profitability.

“Next, if you’re in the guitar business, you support the guitar makers,” he continued. “We have hundreds of skilled craftsmen and women. C.F. Martin is not just a family business because the Martin family owns it. It is a family business because we all work together like a big extended family. We are all co-workers in my eyes. My co-workers cross-train and work in different areas – in part for exposure to and appreciation of the whole process, but more importantly, for opportunities to grow and enhance their skills and potential. Some co-workers have generations of Martin Guitar makers in their families.

“It’s particularly gratifying to see coworkers wear Martin shirts and hats. They are proud of what they do and where they work. I can’t tell you what that means to the company and to me personally. Times are good now, but I know they are there if times get tough. They’ve shown me before. I count on my big Martin family.”

After a lot of experience – good decisions and the not so good – Chris has developed instincts that he trusts. “If it doesn’t feel right, I say ‘stop,’” he explained. “I’ve seen ideas evolve – many to successes and some to failures – and I have confidence in my judgment. Seeing a company with my name on it almost go broke, and then working together with my Martin Guitar family to turn it around and ultimately become successful again really solidified why it is important to do the right thing. “Passion for what we do pulled us through,” he continued.

“Passion generates new ideas and gives you the courage to push yourself and others. I’m proud I’ve been able to reward that passion and hard work with the spoils of success. We started a profit-sharing program early in my tenure as CEO, and through the years we’ve returned multimillions to our co-workers.”

Skilled craftsmen and craftswomen at Martin Guitar factory.

Skilled craftsmen and craftswomen at Martin Guitar factory.

Finding Guitar Makers

Understanding people, their interests, work styles and personalities is important in helping them achieve success or “find their bliss” as Chris says. Every year, Chris takes a group of co-workers on an Outward Bound team-building program. “It is a great way to get to know coworkers and let them get to know me,” he said. “Getting into a different setting and doing unique activities together gives you valuable insights. I might find an exceptional leader or recognize a team member who is the glue that holds a group together. It helps me grow guitar makers and helps the guitar makers feel more connected and fulfilled.”

While work has consumed much of Chris’s time through the years, he also has a keen interest in helping people and organizations with a bond to Martin. “We have a foundation with a simple direction: support causes that help the acoustic guitar industry, as well as the communities where the Martin Guitar family lives and works,” Chris said. “We also work on and with environmental organizations that help maintain the raw materials used in our industry, such as exotic woods and inlay materials. We want our industry to continue to grow and thrive responsibly.”

Planning for 3 Million

Chris believes the future is bright for Martin Guitar and the acoustic guitar business because there is an intrinsic value in playing and listening to the guitar. “People all over the world enjoy the acoustic guitar,” Chris said. “By staying focused on quality guitar making and by surrounding the business with smart, skilled artisans who are passionate about Martin Guitar, I’m certain Martin is well on its way to building its 3 millionth guitar – and many more following that. Maybe you can come back and take a shot of another C.F. Martin with number 3 million!” That sounds like a sweet tune for all of us guitar players and listeners.

Chris Martin’s BB&T Wealth advisors are Barbara Seifert-Sigmon and Judy Savchak.

By Olan Beam, Photography By John Walsh

C.F. Martin IV with 2 millionth guitar replica.

C.F. Martin IV with 2 millionth guitar replica.

C.F. Martin IV (Chris), CEO of C.F. Martin & Co. Guitar, speaks with pride, passion and confidence about his almost 185-year-old family business headquartered in Nazareth, Pa. You only have to watch the faces of guitar aficionados who visit the company headquarters, maybe better described as a pilgrimage, to realize that desire to build the best guitars – and confidence that they are – is still very much alive and well.

You would expect a sixth-generation Martin to have a passion for guitars embedded in his DNA, yet Chris said his passion was acquired through time. “I actually was not exposed to the business much growing up,” he said. “My parents divorced when I was very young, and I spent much of my youth in New Jersey with my mother and her parents. In fact, growing up I planned to be a marine biologist.”

Finding a Path

After high school, Chris was expected to go to college, so he decided on University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His father introduced him to a Los Angeles music store owner who agreed to have Chris work at his store while he was going to school. “I came into work and the owner told me, ‘Go up front and sell some guitars,’” Chris said. “I realized I didn’t know enough about guitars to sell them. So, he said, ‘Well, go in back and help them fix guitars.’ Of course, I couldn’t do that either. The good news was it made me understand I wanted to learn the guitar business – my heritage. So, I left UCLA and went back to Nazareth.”

Martin co-workers at Nazareth, Pa., headquarters

Martin co-workers at Nazareth, Pa., headquarters

Unexpected Turns

When Chris returned to Nazareth, he lived with his paternal grandfather, C.F. Martin III. Chris’s guitar education started when he worked in different stations throughout the guitar-making process at the Martin plant. He also experienced the challenges of managing the business by watching his father, who was the president at the time. “The core guitar business was healthy and profitable when we began making acquisitions,” Chris said. “It was the cash generator for us to expand into other things. But, those other things distracted my dad and his management team. Three out of four acquisitions failed. The guitar makers recognized the lack of attention, and they became unhappy with management. I learned some valuable but painful lessons.”

Young Chris working in the Martin factory.

Young Chris working in the Martin factory.

Leadership Training

After some of the management issues developed, Chris’s father retired and his grandfather ran the business. “My grandfather accelerated my understanding of the business and sparked my appreciation of guitar construction,” he explained. “We shared that same fascination with making guitars. My grandfather saw that fervor in me, and we developed a special relationship. I have a 12-year-old daughter, Claire Frances, and I hope she and I find a similar bond together with the family business.”

Chris understood it was alluring to leverage the core to acquire new businesses, to have firms eager to lend you money and companies wanting you to acquire their businesses and ideas. But, as in most successful businesses, focus and discipline were the real paths to success.

Christian Friedrich Martin; Chris with grandfather C.F. Martin III.

(Left to right) Founder Christian Friedrich Martin; Chris with grandfather C.F. Martin III.

Family is More Than Just the Name

“It was a tough time, but the trials I saw and experienced helped me learn how to lead a business,” Chris said. “First, focus on your core. C.F. Martin was and is a premier guitar maker. We lost our focus for a few years, but we regained it and that has fueled our brand value and profitability.

“Next, if you’re in the guitar business, you support the guitar makers,” he continued. “We have hundreds of skilled craftsmen and women. C.F. Martin is not just a family business because the Martin family owns it. It is a family business because we all work together like a big extended family. We are all co-workers in my eyes. My co-workers cross-train and work in different areas – in part for exposure to and appreciation of the whole process, but more importantly, for opportunities to grow and enhance their skills and potential. Some co-workers have generations of Martin Guitar makers in their families.

“It’s particularly gratifying to see coworkers wear Martin shirts and hats. They are proud of what they do and where they work. I can’t tell you what that means to the company and to me personally. Times are good now, but I know they are there if times get tough. They’ve shown me before. I count on my big Martin family.”

After a lot of experience – good decisions and the not so good – Chris has developed instincts that he trusts. “If it doesn’t feel right, I say ‘stop,’” he explained. “I’ve seen ideas evolve – many to successes and some to failures – and I have confidence in my judgment. Seeing a company with my name on it almost go broke, and then working together with my Martin Guitar family to turn it around and ultimately become successful again really solidified why it is important to do the right thing. “Passion for what we do pulled us through,” he continued.

“Passion generates new ideas and gives you the courage to push yourself and others. I’m proud I’ve been able to reward that passion and hard work with the spoils of success. We started a profit-sharing program early in my tenure as CEO, and through the years we’ve returned multimillions to our co-workers.”

Skilled craftsmen and craftswomen at Martin Guitar factory.

Skilled craftsmen and craftswomen at Martin Guitar factory.

Finding Guitar Makers

Understanding people, their interests, work styles and personalities is important in helping them achieve success or “find their bliss” as Chris says. Every year, Chris takes a group of co-workers on an Outward Bound team-building program. “It is a great way to get to know coworkers and let them get to know me,” he said. “Getting into a different setting and doing unique activities together gives you valuable insights. I might find an exceptional leader or recognize a team member who is the glue that holds a group together. It helps me grow guitar makers and helps the guitar makers feel more connected and fulfilled.”

While work has consumed much of Chris’s time through the years, he also has a keen interest in helping people and organizations with a bond to Martin. “We have a foundation with a simple direction: support causes that help the acoustic guitar industry, as well as the communities where the Martin Guitar family lives and works,” Chris said. “We also work on and with environmental organizations that help maintain the raw materials used in our industry, such as exotic woods and inlay materials. We want our industry to continue to grow and thrive responsibly.”

Planning for 3 Million

Chris believes the future is bright for Martin Guitar and the acoustic guitar business because there is an intrinsic value in playing and listening to the guitar. “People all over the world enjoy the acoustic guitar,” Chris said. “By staying focused on quality guitar making and by surrounding the business with smart, skilled artisans who are passionate about Martin Guitar, I’m certain Martin is well on its way to building its 3 millionth guitar – and many more following that. Maybe you can come back and take a shot of another C.F. Martin with number 3 million!” That sounds like a sweet tune for all of us guitar players and listeners.

Chris Martin’s BB&T Wealth advisors are Barbara Seifert-Sigmon and Judy Savchak.