Architect Christopher Martin knows a thing or two about riding out a recession.

The chief executive of AC Martin Partners Inc. survived the recession of the early 1990s – as did his family’s 103-year-old downtown L.A. architect firm.

During that period, Martin learned the importance of keeping lean during hard times, so in the last year he’s applied those lessons; he’s reduced the work force of AC Martin from nearly 200 employees to about 120 and also cut salaries. And he hasn’t exempted himself from the cost-cutting.

Six weeks ago, he sold his beloved Cirrus SR22 airplane, a four-seat propeller plane he purchased in May 2008 for about $600,000 – and added the proceeds to AC Martin’s capital base.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a brand-new $600,000 airplane to fly on the weekend when you are letting your employees go,” said Martin, 59. “When you are doing pay reductions, don’t be indulging yourself in a very expensive pastime.”

It is that sort of leadership that has endeared Martin – an engineer by trade who got a USC architecture degree in 1974 – to his employees and his high-profile clients.

Real estate developer Michael Lombardi, chairman of the board of the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital, has known Martin for about 25 years and said that the executive has long been willing to make tough decisions.

“Chris is looking ahead at where things are going to go and I think he has been good at that,” said Lombardi, who serves on the hospital board with Martin and also hired his firm to design a 12-acre mixed-use project in West L.A. “People will look at this and say, ‘He laid off a lot of staff,’ but Chris personally took a big hit. I think Chris is a remarkable leader.”

Martin grew up in Pasadena, where he still lives. Early on, he knew he wanted to be a part of the family business, which put its stamp on L.A. architecture with such designs as the landmark May Co. building on Wilshire Boulevard and numerous downtown buildings. More recently, it was chosen as the architect for the $1 billion Wilshire Grand downtown mixed-use project.

In 1968, Martin joined the business, founded by his grandfather, Albert C. Martin Sr., and slowly worked his way up the ladder. He became managing partner in 1986 and, finally, chief executive in 1999. He now works with his cousin, David Martin, who is the firm’s design principal.

Martin enjoys working alongside family members, both at home and in the office. In his youth, Martin tinkered on motorcycles, cars and boats, mostly in his own backyard. He’s carried on that tradition with his children, including son Patrick, who has already joined the company as an architect.

“We are very consciously building the fourth generation of our business,” he said. “What we think about every day is the next 10 years and the opportunities for our people to have the exposure to the right jobs so they gain the experience and continue on in the fourth generation.”



AC Martin Partners Inc.


QUOTE: “When you are doing pay reductions, don’t be indulging yourself in a very expensive pastime.”

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