Posted: January 01, 2012
Colorado Business Hall of Fame: Landis “Lanny” Martin
Founder of equity firm started new career after running industrial, chemical and metal companiesNora Caley
When J. Landis "Lanny" Martin said he wanted to retire in 2005, he didn't mean play golf or travel for fun. After working for years as chairman and CEO of several publicly held industrial, chemical and metals companies, Martin decided he wanted to start a new company while he still had time.
"I thought I had another 15- to 20-year career left, and I wanted to get started on it sooner rather than later," Martin says. He started a private equity fund, Platte River Ventures. "I was running businesses for 18 years, and I did mergers before, and I spent a lot of time buying and selling companies. It kind of fit my skill set."
That skill set, he says, includes problem solving, something he developed in law school in the 1970s. "In law studies you really talk critically about the facts you receive," he says. "I think that as much as anything helped me in my career."
After Martin graduated from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, he worked for the national law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. He moved to Denver in 1981 to open the firm's Denver office. He specialized in litigation, corporate law and mergers and acquisitions, and thought he would work for a large law firm for the rest of his life.
But 15 years into his law career, a company he represented offered him the job of CEO. The company was Titanium Metals Corp., or TIMET, which supplies titanium for aerospace and other industries. During the 16 years Martin was CEO, he was also CEO of NL Industries, a TIMET subsidiary that is a specialty chemical producer.
He calls the six years since he started Platte River Ventures "interesting." Of the 14 companies Platte River Ventures has bought, seven are in aerospace, a strong sector despite the downturn. "Fortunately we picked industries that managed to do well through this time," he says.
Martin also holds director positions with several companies, including Crown Castle International Corp., which owns and operates wireless communication sites; Apartment Investment Management Co., which owns, operates and manages apartments in the U.S., and Halliburton Co., which provides products and services to the oil and gas industries. The companies are diverse, but Martin says he and his colleagues in these industries share a common trait: the ability to work hard.
"That means both putting in time and really concentrating on any issue at hand," he said. "It doesn't necessarily mean extraordinarily long hours, but it has to be time well spent."
Some of his time has been well spent in philanthropy. Martin is chairman emeritus for the Central City Opera endowment fund. "He has fantastic vision and creativity and can think ahead," says Nancy Parker, Central City Opera's president and chairman of the board. "He is very good at figuring out how to make the best of any situation that looks pretty bad."
Parker credits Martin with building the nonprofit's endowment fund. To thank him for his work over the years, Central City named a street Lanny Martin Block, which was unveiled during the opera's opening-night ceremonies in June 2011.
Martin was surprised and grateful for the gesture, but adds that he wasn't given any special privileges. "I can park on the street, but if I stay there too long I can get a ticket."
Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics.