Roy O. Martin, Sr. CENLA trailblazer
By James Ronald Skains
As it stands in 2017, there are over 100 lineal descendants of Roy O. and Mildred Brown Martin. Of these descendants, only 20 or so ever met Roy O. Martin, Sr. and wife, Mildred, and only a very few knew them well. However, today the seeds that Roy O. Martin, Sr. planted both figuratively and literally have grown into a substantial Louisiana company.
The company has branched beyond the borders of Louisiana, affecting the lives of thousands of people economically, socially, and spiritually, in many states beyond the Mississippi and Sabine Rivers. "We believe that we have our company structured to remain a family owned business for at least through the 4th, 5th and 6th generations," Jonathan Martin, 3rd generation linage and current chairman of the Board of Directors of Martin Sustainable Resources L.L.C. told the Piney Woods Journal. Roy O. Martin III, who serves as CEO, president, and CFO, agrees.
"When my grandfather bought the Fenner Street sawmill in Alexandria out of bankruptcy in 1923, he did not own a single acre of land. Today we are blessed to own over 570,000 acres of forestland, of which most is located in central Louisiana. In 1960, which was actually in the time frame of the 2nd generation taking over leadership of our company, we owned only 260,000 acres."
"The second generation in our family company leadership was Roy O. Martin, Jr. and my father, Ellis Martin," Jonathan continued about the family structure. "Both brothers started working in Roy O. Martin Lumber Company, Inc. at an early age. My father, as he grew older, was Castor sawmill at a very early age." The two current leaders of the company now known as RoyOMartin, Jonathan and Roy III were able to get a college education before being thrown in to upper-level management at an early age, as was Ellis. Jonathan attended LSU and earned a degree as an industrial engineer, which served him well when he built the LeMoyen hardwood sawmill. Roy also earned a degree from LSU in mechanical engineering, which was beneficial in developing the Chopin plywood mill.
"I'm really proud of our company for many reasons, but I think our Legacy Health & Wellness [clinic] is really fantastic," Roy pointed out. "I think our employee-wellness program says a lot about how much we value our employees."
"We have our own medical clinic for our employees, staffed by a full-time, board-certified physician with 15 years of experience. We also have a full-time nurse practitioner, so our employees have relatively quick access to a healthcare provider. Dr. Brian Elkins and John Hall provide the usual family-practice medical services, including pediatric care.
"We have been providing this service to our employees since 2011," Roy added. "It has paid dividends for us in avoiding lost days of work due to medical issues. Our staff encourages wellness and healthy living."
"Another program that we have, that only a few companies have, and works extremely well for us is our chaplain services," Jonathan noted. "Our chaplains provide the same service to our employees and families that military chaplains provide, such as attending funerals as official representatives of RoyOMartin."
"Many people characterize RoyOMartin as being a Christian company. We appreciate hearing this. We are a privately owned company, so we can express our Christian faith as we so desire. All three generations of Martins have been involved in the Christian community."
"One of the reason that our grandfather came to Alexandria was because of his desire to do business in an honorable fashion," Jonathan recalled. "As a young man starting out in the lumber business in Indiana, he moved to Memphis in the early 1920s and became a lumber broker. He quickly found out that lumber brokers were at the mercy of unscrupulous mill owners. Grandpa found out real quick that sawmill owners would take your order for #1 grade lumber but would deliver #2 or #3 grade lumber to customers. He realized that he must be in a position to not only guarantee the quality of his lumber to the customer, but also control the lumber that left a sawmill going to his customer. His desire to do that is what brought him to Alexandria."
Roy O. Martin, Sr. was born near Elkhart, Indiana. His dad owned three acres of land on a lake and operated a small marina. Roy, Sr. showed his entrepreneurial spirit at an early age by digging fish-bait worms and selling them to the fishermen who used the marina. After graduating from high school 1908, he was like most young men, trying to decide on a course of action for a career. The economy was not booming at that time, so he became certified as a teacher.
During the summer of his first year of teaching, Roy, Sr. attended South Bend Business College. After obtaining some schooling in business and accounting, he began to look for opportunities. That decision to teach business eventually carried him to Beaumont, Texas, where he taught for one year. In Beaumont, he met J. Elliston Thomas, who became his best friend for life.
He had met Mildred Brown in Indiana a few years earlier, so he was eager to return to that area. Once back in Indiana, he began a diligent search for a job, any kind of job. Fortunately for Louisiana, the job he found was in the lumber industry. After working in management in a couple of lumber businesses, he decided to move to Memphis, where the lumber industry was steady, if not booming at times. After deciding that he needed a sawmill if he was going to be successful, he began a tour of the South, looking for a sawmill to buy. He finally came across the sawmill in Alexandria on Fenner Street.
"Our book about the incredible journey of our grandfather and parents is entitled, Legacy of Riches, The Roy O. Martin Story," Jonathan explained. "The book explains how frugal our grandfather was with his money."
"He had saved up $65,000 by 1923, when he found the sawmill whose owner, J. M. Peel, had filed for bankruptcy. He struck a deal with Mr. Peel to buy the Fenner Street mill, known at the time as Creston Lumber Co., for $8,000 less than Peel's asking price. He paid $10,000cash down and financed the balance at six percent interest. Roy, Sr. took possession of the mill on November 5, 1923. In three years, our grandfather had paid off the mill."
"The word RICHES in the title of the book is very important to our family," Roy elaborated. "It is actually an acronym that explains our value system."
The value-system acronym, RICHES, breaks down into: "R," respect for each other as human beings; "I," integrity in what we do and say we will do regardless of the cost, legally and ethically; "C," commitment to our business, to our employees, to our customers and to each other; "H," honesty in our interaction with our fellow employees, our supervisors, our customers, our vendors, and our families; "E," excellence in safety, product quality, employee training and development, and process improvements; and "S," stewardship of our land, timber, and plant assets. and their forest-products operation.