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Sound turnaround: C.F. Martin in tune

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in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills,Management Training

Martin guitars have come to symbolize more than just Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton. They stand for good craftsmanship, quality standards and the 300 steps it takes to build them.

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 management 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.
Bottom line: By the late 1990s, things were looking up. Martin’s Pennsylvania factory has captured more than 40% of the market for premium acoustic guitars and attracts younger stars such as John Mayer.

—Adapted from Beat the Odds, Robert Rudzki, J. Ross Publishing.

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