What do marathons, mid-life career jumps, and post-breakup corporate rebranding have in common? You need discipline to succeed, the kind ITT's corporate relations SVP Tom Martin epitomizes
Many of the hobbies listed on Tom Martin's bio, including sailing, playing piano, and running marathons, were only begun during the past nine years. Starting new things has become his passion, perhaps prompted by the major career jump that Martin made from FedEx, and his hometown of Memphis, TN, to the Northeast and a job at the reconfigured ITT Industries.
"It was a demonstration that you can make a bold move at a midpoint in your life and career," Martin reflects. "Being able to walk away and change everything opened my eyes up to new possibilities." Sailing is one of those disciplines where, he says, "you always learn something new."
Moving on from a long career at FedEx - which grew from being a company even he had never heard of into a global household name - was tough, as Martin was established as a business leader in the Memphis community, as well as at the company. But the lure of the ITT challenge proved too great.
Since then, Martin has not only learned how to trim a sail, but how to navigate the tricky waters of reinventing ITT following the corporation's breakup in 1995.
"It was definitely an attraction to feel I could help shape a company that at the time was being reformed," he says. Chief among his early jobs was to establish a unified communications function, which previously had been decentralized and fragmented, along with the corporate brand, which was also his to bring together.
Fast forward nine years to today, and Martin is once again engaged in a corporate branding project, with a team from branding firm Landor and Doremus Advertising leading the effort. "We first started working with Tom in 1997," says Hayes Roth, Landor's VP of worldwide marketing and business development. "Now he's come back to his two partners to benchmark where we are now, where it has worked, and where we can improve it."
Martin, who is a member of the company's executive council, presented the brand assessment to the board of directors earlier this month. Hayes praises the fact that Martin is unafraid to openly assess what has and has not worked, even in his own area.
Hayes also cites Martin's insistence that teams work collegially. "He likes everyone to play nicely together," Roth says. "He won't tolerate dissension in the ranks - he makes you work it out."
Now on his third CEO since landing at ITT, Martin made it his job to help the newest occupant of that chair succeed. "I came in as CEO in June 2004, and Tom had already prepared a transition series of communications that was detailed by the minute," says Steven Loranger, chairman, president, and CEO of ITT Industries. "He actually had the 100-day plan. By any measure of a CEO transition, it went very well."
Loranger praises Martin's industry leadership and corporate prowess, demonstrating the exacting standards for judging both. "I have a very high expectation for the role of internal and external communications," he says. "The role Tom plays in the job is excellent. We hit it off. From the beginning he wanted to help me be an effective CEO and execute my strategies."
Loranger adds that he and Martin spend a lot of time mapping out the company's emphasis and how to tie in communications with an overall strategy. "We have an aspiration to be a premier company," he says. "Communications is more than important."
Martin is well-known nationally as a communications thought leader, not least because of his role as president of the Arthur W. Page Society. Dave Drobis, past Page president and former Ketchum chairman, lauds Martin's commitment. "Tom immerses himself in everything he does," says Drobis.
While at FedEx, Martin was Drobis' client. "He is never satisfied," Drobis recalls. "It's both frustrating and rewarding when working with him as a client. He always sees that there's a better way to do things. He's not satisfied just because we've done something one way and it's been successful. He's always looking for the next challenge, both for himself and the organization he works for."
Leadership roles in associations are a bit like herding cats, something that Martin's personality is perfectly suited for, says Maril MacDonald, CEO of Gagen MacDonald, and also on Page's executive committee. "The role has no real power; it's all through his influence and leadership that we serve," she says. She says his warmth and humor are always evident. "He's probably one of the last great gentlemen."
Martin's role as a Big Brother has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his life. In 1983, he was matched with a 12-year-old boy, who lost his family in violent circumstances. "He's really like a son now," says Martin, who is married with two sons. His "little brother" is now an attorney living in Memphis and is father to a baby girl. "Your children come to you by whatever miracle can make it happen," Martin says. "Robert and I chose each other, and he has changed my life."
Mentoring and teaching are ongoing passions for Martin. In fact, his energy seems boundless. How he manages to maintain his calm demeanor and wit (not to mention that Tennessee accent) with all he has going on is something of a mystery to those around him. Sailing rough waters surely offers perspective. Combine that with the sheer determination and discipline it takes to finish a marathon - he's done four now - and you have a working philosophy for life.
"What's been interesting about running marathons is finding that it's less a physical challenge than a mental one," Martin explains. "I don't run very fast, so I have to endure running over a long period of time. To do that, you really need the discipline to say, 'I'm going to finish.'"
ITT Industries, SVP and director of corporate relations
FedEx, various positions leading to VP of corporate communications, including media development specialist and managing director of employee communications and PR
Schering-Plough, sales bulletin writer