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‘We create a sound and build a box around it’ Martin Guitar leader stressed improvement and employee engagement; it’s about to pay off with two millionth guitar

Chris Martin IV, chairman and CEO of C.F. Martin Guitar & Co., is the sixth- generation owner of the company and has been CEO for three decades. / Photo courtesy of C.F. Martin Guitar & Co..

Since C.F. Martin Guitar & Co. in Upper Nazareth Township has existed for more than 180 years, it only makes sense that its CEO was well ahead of the scene in terms of continuous improvement and employee engagement.

Since C.F. Martin Guitar & Co. in Upper Nazareth Township has existed for more than 180 years, it only makes sense that its CEO was well ahead of the scene in terms of continuous improvement and employee engagement.

Three decades ago, Chris Martin IV, now chairman and CEO, saw how the manufacturer of high-end acoustic guitars and ukuleles would introduce changes developed by management, a traditional hierarchy. But the modifications would not last, and, ultimately, management would force-feed new changes – and the cycle would continue.

Instead, Martin started something that frees employees and teams to make their own suggestions.

“We put into place what we call our ‘Continuous Improvement Program’ that we’ve pretty much been using, modifying and re-energizing throughout my career,” Martin told Lehigh Valley Business in an exclusive interview. “We have a form that you fill out that says, ‘this is the challenge, the opportunity, the dilemma; this is the team that got together to talk about how to fix or change or improve that issue that concerned that opportunity. …

“It almost doesn’t matter if you accomplish the goal or not. What matters is that you attempted to accomplish it. And so we acknowledge you [the employees].”

Thirty years at the helm, Martin has made other structural changes to enhance practices, and Martin Guitar reached a historic milestone in 2013 when it hit $100 million in annual revenue.

Founded in 1833, the company’s products are used by world-famous musicians such as Neil Young, Bob Dylan and John Mayer, as well as by amateurs all around the globe. Its two millionth guitar will be manufactured this year.

Family owned since its inception, Martin Guitar has passed the leadership torch from generation to generation, and Martin represents the sixth generation to lead the company.

“We create a sound and build a box around it,” he said.

In his interview with Lehigh Valley Business, Martin also talked about hiring, training, coaching and how the company defines success.

Christopher Holland
Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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