Profile: Arthur Martinez, Trustee


Whether sitting in a Fortune 500 board room or standing on his Maine dock, Arthur Martinez is a problem solver. Well-known in the business world for his ability to refocus and rescue struggling retail corporations, you know his work if not his name. Sears, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Abercrombie & Fitch have all benefited from his leadership and guidance.

Five years ago, he turned his skill set toward another huge challenge — the health of the oceans — becoming a donor and then an advisory board member of Bigelow Laboratory. Two years ago, he joined the board of trustees.

“The health of the oceans is vital to the health of the planet and its population,” Martinez said. “There is so much half-baked science out there, so many half-truths and bogus theories. It’s important to have a scientific North Star to show us the way, and that is what Bigelow delivers.”

Long before he was a nationally known executive or a trustee at the Laboratory, Martinez developed an understanding of the importance of the oceans. He grew up in New York City, where his father ran a wholesale seafood business. This experience taught him early lessons about the importance of the ocean as a food source and economic engine. It also taught him that both of those valuable contributions relied on the health of the ocean’s waters.

At 16, he became the first in his family to go to college. He earned a bachelor’s degree from New York University Tandon School of Engineering before spending two years in the army. By then he had grown an interest in applying the math skills and rigorous approach he had developed as an engineer toward analyzing and solving business problems. In 1965, he received his master’s in business administration from Harvard University.

Rising up through finance positions, he became the Chief Financial Officer of Saks Fifth Avenue and over time transitioned into general retail management. He had countless achievements throughout his illustrious career, but he is perhaps best known for saving Sears. He stepped in to lead the challenged company in 1992 and implemented a bold new vision that delivered new customers and large profits.

Martinez’s extensive experience at large, publicly held companies has added valuable perspective to the Bigelow Laboratory Board of Trustees. And the opportunity to serve on a small, independent nonprofit board has also been fulfilling for the seasoned executive.

“There are so many layers and filters at larger organizations that often obscure whatever is really going on from the board,” Martinez said. “At Bigelow Laboratory, we get to be so much closer to the work that it has been a very different and rewarding experience. You can really engage with the mission. The people aren’t just numbers on spreadsheets; they’re names and faces. That sort of intimacy with the people and the work is really terrific.”

Regardless of the context and size of an organization’s challenges, Martinez’s approach to problem solving has always centered on the search for truth and the restoration of focus. In retail, he learned early on that the truth is usually resident with the people who are closest to the customer, and companies tend to look increasingly inward and lose their perspective.

He brings this same approach to his work with Bigelow Laboratory, focusing on the problems the Laboratory’s science can help solve and the people it can help. Basic scientific research has always played a key role in stimulating the progress of societies, and he sees the dual importance of Bigelow Laboratory’s work as a source of fundamental truth and of practical applications.

“A critical contribution of the scientific endeavor is to, over time, produce solutions that benefit mankind,” Martinez said. “I really admire the way that Bigelow scientists pursue their research while keeping their eyes on the horizon for ways their discoveries can really make a difference.”

Summering along the ocean, the sea is never far from his mind — nor are the changes he has witnessed at the Mount Desert Island residence that he has called home for almost 45 years. The fireplace now sits unused during the summer. The garden can be started earlier and grows longer. These changes have done wonders for his tomato plants, but they have contributed to his deep concern for the environmental changes occurring around the globe.

“I really treasure the opportunity to contribute to Bigelow Laboratory’s role in keeping our oceans, and our planet, healthy,” Martinez said.