Going back six generations, the family-owned company survived the Great Depression and periods of labor strife. But by the early 1980s, amid disco and electronica, C.F. Martin & Co. came close to shutting down. Production had plunged from 22,000 guitars a year to about 3,000.
“We were hand-to-mouth with the bank,” says chief executive Christian Martin IV, a college student at the time. His dad responded by trying to build a music conglomerate.
The empire-building approach, coupled with a mercurial, top-down style, combined to force out Martin’s dad and bring his eightysomething grandfather out of retirement.
So Chris Martin and his grandfather forged a turnaround. How’d they do it?
- Returned to the core business. “We’re just going to make guitars,” Martin said.
- Sought allies among longtime managers. “We didn’t have a team— we had a bunch of rugged individuals,” Martin says now. But eventually it gelled. “It’s about time we ask the people who do the work what they think.”
- Found outside advisors. Industrial engineers and consultants helped to start strategic planning and standardize production.
- Introduced new models. A portable Backpacker model launched in 1991 became a hit, followed by signature models by artists such as Clapton. “Artist development,” aka marketing, brought prominent musicians into the fold.
—Adapted from Beat the Odds, Robert Rudzki, J. Ross Publishing.
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