Posted: July 01, 2010
Executive edge: Vern Martinez
International chief's construction work takes him around the worldBy Lynn Bronikowski
Tucked away in the massive Glenwood Canyon is a tiny imprint of a Mayan pyramid that was imbedded in the concrete sometime in the late 1980s. Vern Martinez put it there.
The Mayan pyramid is the logo of Martinez International. Martinez thought it fitting to leave his stamp when the Parker-based company he founded in 1976 played a role in building one of the interstate system's most scenic stretches.
"When I thought about the origin of the Mayan pyramids, I just kept saying, ‘How did they figure out how to do all those things?' and thought it was a good symbol for my company," said Martinez, whose company employs anywhere from 30 to 125 people depending on what facility upgrades they're working on around the world.
From the day he became state wrestling champion in his native Albuquerque and won a scholarship to the University of New Mexico, to his stint in the Marines Corps during the Vietnam era and later getting into the construction business in Colorado, Martinez is all about figuring things out.
"When you're in Vietnam, you sure learn about yourself; you learn about priorities," said Martinez, who was a captain and platoon leader from 1963 to 1967. "And one of the most important things you learn - and this is good for business, too - you learn to have a backup plan. That kind of thinking has helped me through the years."
He holds a master's degree in educational administration and had been intending to teach and coach wrestling. That was his backup plan until a call from a Marine buddy put him on his construction track by offering him the opportunity to build dorms and student unions at the University of Wisconsin.
"The weather was a culture shock," he said of his three winters in Wisconsin, so when a college friend called about opportunities in Colorado with the Writer Corp. he jumped at the move in 1972.
Ultimately he would open his own company, starting with smaller buildings at the Air Force Academy and at Lowry Air Force Base before landing contracts that would take him to 32 countries around the world doing everything from major security upgrades in embassies to doing heating and air overhauls for the State Department. He even returned to Vietnam, renovating the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.
"I especially like working in Third World countries, visiting exotic and different places," Martinez said. "I like the way the people think, and the way they do things fascinates me when they work without having modern tools. They have a strong work ethic."
Martinez opened a "green" division of his company after leading the installation of an air-cooler system at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, and installed a similar system in Santiago, Chile. In the first six months, the Santiago system cut building operation costs $47,000 and carbon dioxide emissions by 82 metric tons.
"I like such projects because the results are measurable," said Martinez, who at age 70 has no plans to retire. "What do people do when they retire? They travel. I get to travel to some of the most fascinating places in the world - Nepal was very interesting - and see how people live."
He admits that some travels have been risky, such as trips to Colombia and Palestine during turbulent times.
"In every country if you go in and meet them more than halfway and you try to speak with them on their level, you really get to know the people," he said. "And I always have a backup plan so you learn to take everything in stride."
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.