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Leadership Columbus: Kevin Martin

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Name: Kevin Martin

Date of birth: Dec. 20, 1965

Place of birth: Michigan City, Ind.

Title: Chief financial officer of Johnson Ventures.

Job duties: Supporting the financial and investment needs of the Johnson family and play an oversight role with our operating companies.

Education: Bachelor’s in accounting from Indiana University (minor in religious studies), MBA in entrepreneurship and management information systems (minor in finance).

Family: Wife, Patty (works at Eli Lilly & Co.); son, Zech, 16; daughter, Helen, 12.

Community involvement: Columbus Museum of Art + Design board president, involved with public education in Indianapolis (The Mind Trust), former member of alumni board of Kelley School of Business board of directors.

Hobbies: Running. I run 25 to 35 miles per week and have run nine marathons and two Goofys at Disney World, which is a half marathon Saturday and a full marathon Sunday. I also like to read about foreign affairs and economics, such as Disney’s “Be Our Guest: Perfecting the art of customer service.”

Q: What was your first job?

A: At age 11, I worked at a marina in Michigan City, learning how to take care of boats by scrubbing, varnishing, painting and waxing them. Later, in high school and college, I owned a boat-maintenance company that I sold in my sophomore year. The proceeds helped pay my undergraduate tuition.

Q: What was the main lesson you learned from that job?

A: The importance of customer service and that the customer defines how the world works. People had invested a lot in their boats. The customer was always right. You listen a lot.

Q: What was your first leadership role?

A: I went into public accounting after college, working in the tax department of George S. Olive & Co., which is called BKD today. I worked with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Humane Society and other nonprofits, had to learn to bring together a group of people to achieve a common objective. You learn very quickly how to identify what interests people and how to align their interests with your objectives, which is better than simply demanding that somebody do something.

Q: What are the biggest leadership lessons that you’ve learned?

A: The importance of good people. If I’ve been successful, it’s because I’ve worked with good people. Yes, there’s a leadership component and a way to bring people together, but good people are critical. Another important lesson is to listen to the customer.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first became a leader?

A: In the beginning you try to juggle a lot of things. But a lot of them aren’t very important. As you get experience, you pick more wisely, you pick only those that you need to do, which means you have less distraction. Early on, it’s hard to make those judgments on those things.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: I enjoy working with the Johnson family and the diversity of experiences this job has provided. I’ve had the pleasure of working with really smart people on the investment and operating sides.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are just now entering the business world?

A: Give back. Get involved in your community. Look at something that’s important to you in the community and give back early. Look at it also from the perspective of what you can learn from the experience. Often we look to somebody else to solve a problem, but we each bear some responsibility to improve our communities. Often there’s a real return on that investment. Also, always be in pursuit of something that you’re never going to master. I started taking piano lessons a couple of years ago and I’ve been taking Chinese lessons.

Q: What’s your favorite city to visit and why?

A: San Francisco. It’s on the water, you can go sailing, there are lots of great experiences you can have there. And I love wine.

Leadership Columbus is a twice monthly Q&A with Columbus’ business leaders. If you know someone we should talk to, contact Boris Ladwig at 379-5712 or

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