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Let employees be themselves within the company framework

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PHOTO COURTESY OF C.F. MARTIN & CO.
Christian F. Martin IV of C.F. Martin & Co.: 'What does your head say, what does your heart say, what does your gut feel?'
PHOTO COURTESY OF C.F. MARTIN & CO. Christian F. Martin IV of C.F. Martin & Co.: 'What does your head say, what does your heart say, what does your gut feel?'

A culture of employees owning their success through company support, opportunity, training and being invested in their work are core ingredients to the success of two longtime Northampton County privately owned companies.

“To me, allowing people to be themselves within the framework of general company guidelines provides them with the best chance to really enjoy their jobs,” said Joe Scott, president and CEO of Easton Coach Co. in Forks Township.

Scott values his “solid working-class” upbringing and credits his father with modeling and instilling such values as hard work and dedication.

“Easton Coach Co. is made up of over 800 people, so training and individual development are vital elements of our success. [We] … encourage our people to seek outside education opportunities that are so widely available these days,” Scott said.

Christian Frederick Martin IV, CEO and chairman of C.F. Martin & Co. in Upper Nazareth Township, said a college class in organizational behavior he’d taken decades ago continues to guide his managerial style.

Martin said his return to the company was a wakeup call.

“I came back to my family’s business and said we have a very hierarchical management system, traditional,” he said.

He said his biggest challenge became shifting a long-held, top-down paradigm about the way things should work. It changed his thinking about employee management and approach.

C.F. MARTIN & CO.

Christian Frederick Martin IV, CEO and Chairman

Upper Nazareth Township

<What are the key ingredients in creating a great workplace culture?

In my case, I was very fortunate that there already was a culture because it’s a multigenerational family business. I didn’t grow up in it, but I was exposed to it, and when I got interested and began to pay attention, I saw some challenges.

When I went to college, one class that really resonated with me was organizational behavior. And the professors at that time, they used as a reference, they started the class with, “Who makes the best cars?”

Everybody kinda looked down at their shoes and said the Japanese. And the professor said, “Yes, isn’t that ironic that we Americans went to Japan after World War II and taught them quality and taught them continuous improvement, and taught them about involving the people who do the work in improving that work?”

I came back to my family’s business and said we have a very hierarchical management system, traditional. That’s the way it was. My family is German and something wasn’t working.

And so I created culture and said, “Look, I didn’t grow up here. I don’t know how to do your job; you know how to do your job. If you can help me make that job more efficient, I will share the profits with you.”

And that has been working my entire career. I’ve been here since college, but I became chairman and CEO in 1986.

<What has been your recipe for success?

It was early on, in being the boss, when I came to the realization, and someone even said, “Chris, you don’t have to make everyone happy,” and I said, “Oh, that’s a relief.”

But then I realized you need to be able to justify a decision. … We believe the decision we had to make is fair and equitable in a general sense. They may not be happy with it, but it’s for the greater good of the company.

And that’s worked, and I pay a lot of attention. I work with some pretty high-powered people. When you work with people in other companies, they focus on what does your head say.

I’ve always felt, and suggested to my colleagues: What does your head say, what does your heart say, what does your gut feel?

It’s about as holistic as it can get. Pay attention to your gut; pay attention to your heart.

<No one starts out as a master chef or top executive. Who has helped you along the way, and how?

Well, certainly my grandfather. My grandfather and I were closer than my father and I. And I think he [my grandfather] saw, once I started to pay attention to the business, he saw this is the next generation, and [said] “I need to help him.”

I belonged to Vistage, which is a peer-to-peer CEO group. People running family businesses. People sharing war stories, and we had compelling speakers come in; I would recommend that to CEOs on the rise.

I found once I proved myself to our dealers, they were very helpful to me, but I had to prove myself. Early in my career and in an ongoing way, I am committed to the quality of the product they expect. And they’ve been extremely helpful to me in shepherding this business, through good times and bad.

I meet a lot of end users, and they always compliment me, and I take that compliment on behalf of everyone that works here.

I have a lot of very good help here, but I am not going to make your guitar by myself.

<What is your company’s training strategy/approach?

Well first of all, we try whenever possible to promote from within. We do a fair amount of training. We offer tuition reimbursement.

I understand a lot of my colleagues – if you started out in manufacturing, it’s quite possible you started here out of high school. I want to encourage you, my fellow co-workers, to grow.

We do a lot of work with Northampton Community College. They’ve been really helpful to get my colleagues on a path to get an associate degree to get on a path on to a bachelor’s degree. I went there briefly between four-year universities. I am madly in love with the work that they do.

The other thing I did, for myself when I became CEO, I went on Outward Bound. I was so inspired by that experience I’ve [taken] about 500 of my co-workers on multiday, Outward Bound experiential learning excursion trips.

We work on team building, we work on leadership. I get to know my co-workers a little bit better. They get to know me a little bit better.

<What’s on the menu the next year or two for you and/or your company?

A funny thing happened to me a couple of years ago. A fellow I know from the industry came up to me at a trade show and said, “You have been on the trade association board … and we’ve been keeping our eye on you. We’d like you to join the executive board of the trade association board.”

I’m working my way up; it’s an eight-year [commitment]. When I come out the side of that, I’ll do some contemplating about my future.

I’ll always be Mr. Martin, and that’s a very valuable thing, it’s a very valuable commodity. Having me be somewhere has a powerful impact. There’s a real person behind this brand.

I’m going to continue being Mr. Martin, but whether or not I’m going to be CEO forever, chances are no. My daughter is only 13, so she’s not going to be taking over anytime soon.

EASTON COACH CO.

Joe Scott, President and CEO

Forks Township

<What are the key ingredients in creating a great workplace culture? 

To me, allowing people to be themselves within the framework of general company guidelines provides them with the best chance to really enjoy their jobs.

If our people are happy, that permeates every facet of our business and creates a great culture. Forcing people to be disingenuous or untrue to themselves leads to discontent.

We run our business through our 800 people, so we need them to enjoy what they do.

<What has been your recipe for success? 

One thing for sure – you have to be prepared to make mistakes; to try something and fail.

It took me years to have the confidence to be wrong and own it. The confidence to try and fail has led to some of our biggest successes.

Even our worst mistakes brought with them a thousand lessons that have made us a stronger organization.   

<No one starts out as a master chef or top executive. Who has helped you along the way, and how? 

It took me years to appreciate the inherent benefit of growing up in a solid working-class neighborhood with parents who loved each other and their kids completely and taught us the value of hard work and education. I always felt safe and taken care of.

Even after my father’s passing a few years ago, I feel like I carry his wisdom and knowledge with me every day.

Professionally, I knew within two minutes of meeting David Boucher, Easton Coach Co.’s principal shareholder and chairman, that he was a person I wanted to work with for a long time. That was almost 25 years and three businesses ago.

David got me to challenge who I was professionally and expanded my aspirations. We’ve been through a lot together – some good and some not so good. I always knew I had his support.

<What is your company’s training strategy/approach? 

Easton Coach Co. is made up of over 800 people, so training and individual development are vital elements of our success. While we have many company-specific training modules, we also encourage our people to seek outside education opportunities that are so widely available these days.

We are looking more and more at pointed “micro-training” sessions that we can make available on people’s phones. It seems to me that people often benefit more from a 10-minute Ted Talk than from a day’s worth of traditional classroom training.

<What’s on the menu the next year or two for you and/or your company? 

I say with both anticipation and some angst that I expect that the next two years may be among the most eventful in our company’s history.

We have spent several years adding depth at key management levels to allow us to take on a few major opportunities that will allow us to grow by almost 50 percent.

The extra management people both allow us to grow and also ensure that our existing operations are well-taken care of.

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