By Greg O’Brien, Boston Irish Reporter
Tom Martin took to ice as a young boy as cod takes to the sea. It was his lifeblood. In high school, he used to run home backwards from Harvard Square, practicing the art of a pivot so he could perform the difficult maneuver without hesitation on ice.
“I was just a dog,” he says of his workouts that led to star status at Boston College and on the 1964 Olympic Team at Innsbruck.
The 71-year-old founder of the award-winning Cramer Productions in Norwood, a second generation Irish American, who at a lean six foot one, 205 pounds is just ten pounds off his college playing weight, still has that canine drive—a focus on the moment and the verve to succeed at every level in the face of challenge.
“As a kid, I worked my ass off,” he says. “While others were at the beach, I needed to be at the gym. I had God given talents, and wanted to make the most of it.”
No doubt, the Almighty is pleased with the result. A three-sport standout at the old Cambridge High and Latin (hockey, baseball and football), Martin, “Red” to his friends, went on to Boston College where he played defensemen on the BC hockey team that won the Beanpot in 1959 and 1961—a year he was team captain and named Beanpot MVP. Martin also was named to the 1960 and ’61 college hockey All America teams, and was the ’61 recipient of the Walter Brown Award as the nation’s outstanding college hockey player. In addition, he was a steady left-handed first baseman on the BC baseball team that played in the College World Series of 1960 and ’61, was named to BC’s Hall of Fame in ’68, represented the United States in the 1962 World Ice Hockey Championship, and was Assistant Captain on the ’64 U.S. Hockey Olympic Team where he roomed with the legendary Herb Brooks, coach of the Miracle-On-Ice ‘80 team that defeated the Soviets in the thick of the Cold War. Martin was later drafted by the Boston Bruins, and offered a $6,800 contract that he rejected because an accounting job paid more. His retired BC hockey jersey hangs from the rafter at Conte Forum.
But this is just the beginning of Tom Martin’s story. To pigeonhole him in the vernacular as a Man for All Seasons, is to say that Tudor writer and statesman Sir Thomas Moore was a jock. With the discipline of athletics as a foundation stone, Martin has succeeded in all areas of life—as a businessman, a renowned creative force, and most importantly to him, as a husband and father.
The early years were difficult for Martin and his younger sister, Anne Marie; their father, Tom Considine, died shortly before her birth. A devout, hard-working Irish Catholic, Considine had close family ties to Galway where his parents were born. Martin and his sister, both of whom later assumed their stepfather’s surname, were initially raised in Somerville, then Cambridge by a dutiful mother, Anne (Norton), whose family came from the south of Ireland. She remarried when Martin was 12. His stepfather, Bill Martin, then a custodian in the Cambridge school system, adopted the children, and they lived in church housing in St. Peter’s Parish in Cambridge. He was a caring surrogate father.
“It was a humble beginning,” Martin recalls in an interview at his state-of-the-art, 70,000 square foot design and production facility. It is headquarters for a full-service, integrated marketing communications company offering services worldwide in event and video and digital production, interactive media, webcasting, and print and direct marketing. With $35 million in annual sales, the company today employees 180 people, including six of his seven children, and has a client list that includes: Bayer Diagnostics, Boston College, CVS Pharmacy, EMC, Fidelity Investments, Gillette, Jordan’s Furniture (for which Cramer Productions has produced the trademark “Barry and Eliot” Tatelman television commercials), Coviden, General Electric, Reebok, Raytheon, Ocean Spray, Serono, Michelin, Motorola, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Boston Red Sox. Cramer Productions also has produced critically acclaimed sports videos and documentaries.
Martin built the company creative brick by creative brick with the benefit of a Boston College Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration, a CPA certificate secured during his five-year tenure of analyzing balance sheets and income statements with the Boston office of Arthur Anderson & Co, and just plain old pond ice smarts.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I had confidence in myself,” he says, sitting his office appointed with sports memorabilia and sounding like an able defensemen. “If it didn’t work out, I knew that I’d bounce back.”
Martin has been resilient throughout his life, learning at a young age to cope with the ups and downs and the sure direction of a disciplinarian mother, who worked as a waitress and collected “Mothers’ Aid,” now called Welfare, at Cambridge City Hall. “I had to mop the floors on my hands and knees before I could go out on a Saturday morning,” he recalls. “My mom was terrific, and had an incredible work ethic that was instilled in us.”
Sunday church attendance in the Martin family was as mandatory as school, and after Mass—from the third grade to his senior year in high school—Martin sold newspapers—The Boston Globe, The Herald, Boston Post and New York Times. He learned the worth at a young age of walking around money.
Always on the run, Martin after college joined the Arthur Anderson staff, then played in the Olympics, returned to the Big Five accounting firm, then was hired in 1966 by Cramer Electronics in the Boston area as a corporate controller, shifting gears later to become national sales manager in the multi-national company—a move that sparked a career change. When the company was acquired in 1979, Martin on a hunch purchased the firm’s budding video production division and retained the Cramer name, calling the new venture Cramer Productions, a cutting-edge marketing medium.
“I thought this new technology had great promise as a marketing and communications supplement,” he says. “I saw an opportunity and went with it.”
But not without the support of his wife of 47 years, June, whom he met many years ago on a blind date. “ We went through some struggling years as any start-up does,” he recalls. “It was in the early ‘80s when interest rates were close to 20 percent. That almost choked companies like ours that were capital intensive. My financial background allowed me to weather the storm and calm the bankers down. It all worked out in the end.”
Today, six of the couple’s children help run the business: Thomas, as sales manager; Timothy as internal operations manager; Christopher as external operations manager overseeing large events around the world; Gregory as chief financial officer; Patrick in a training program; and daughter Julie as major accounts manager. Son Shawn is a partner with the hedge fund Convexity Capital Management. Larger than life in so many ways, Martin has 20 grandchildren.
In his spare time, he is an avid golfer, pushing a four handicap, and notes that all but one of his children are single handicap golfers. “God has been good to me; I can still compete with them,” he says with competitive vigor. A member of the Charles River Golf Club, Martin has won the Senior Division of the Ouimet Memorial Tournament and was twice runner up in the Massachusetts State Seniors Championship. In 2003, he won the New England Senior Amateur Golf Championship.
One simply wonders if Martin was born on Krypton.
Back to earth in Norwood, there is plenty to do at Cramer Productions in the collective coordination of scores of marketing strategists, creative directors, production managers, producers, account managers, designers, developers and support personnel. In addition to corporate marketing, branding and events, Cramer has built an impressive reputation in sports producing, notes a company profile. The company produced the comprehensive Boston Red Sox: 100 Years of Baseball History, a three-hour video documentary that covers the entire history of the Red Sox organization and became one of the fastest- and best-selling New England sports documentaries. Cramer won acclaim, including a prestigious Emmy Award, for its documentary, Story of Golf, that documented more than 700 years of the venerable game, aired on PBS nationally and was featured on CBS during the broadcast of the 2000 Masters Tournament. Cramer Productions also has produced such documentaries as the Banner Years (a Boston Garden retrospective), Home Run Heroes (a tribute to legendary Red Sox hitters) and Ray Bourque: The First 20 Years, which was produced for a Symphony Hall performance and subsequent television broadcast.
Not one to forsake his roots, Martin and his company are generous contributors to non-profit and charitable causes. There is a framed quote in his office from Danny Thomas, the late television personality and humanitarian that underscores Martin’s compassion for others. It reads: “All of us are born for a reason, but all of us don’t discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.”
Martin is a major contributor and advisor to the Mass Hospital School, Caritas Christi Hospital, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) and the Francis Ouimet Foundation. Cramer Productions serves a wide variety of charitable organizations by staging events and producing videos and other communication programs that assist with fundraising. In the past few years, the company profile notes, Cramer has contributed time and talent to such organizations as American Kidney Foundation, Big Brother/Big Sister, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Carney Hospital, Easter Seals, Franciscan Children’s Hospital, Greater Boston Food Bank, Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, March of Dimes, Mother Caroline Academy, Rosie’s Place, Second Helping, South Boston Community Health Center, The Cardinal’s Appeal and The Jimmy Fund.
Martin is quick to note that Cramer’s success is the result of the dedication and creative talents of key longtime associates like Executive Vice President and Creative Director Rich Sturchio, who will be become President this month, and Ann Cave, Senior Vice President, Strategic Services & Marketing.
Consummately camera shy, Martin is always acknowledging the notable contributions of others, but he has received numerous awards and honors for his community service. He was the 2007 recipient of the Richard F. Connolly, Jr. Distinguished Service Award from the Ouimet Fund, and three years ago, the New England Chapter of the National Television Academy inducted him into its Silver Circle, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to television in the last 25 years. He also has been honored by the National MS Society, Mass Hospital School and Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) for his faithful patronage.
So is Tom “Red” Martin really faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive? We know, at least, that he can leap tall challenges with a single bound. Look, flying high in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s just Tom. And that’s the way Martin likes it. Understated.
As the years count down, Martin is sanguine about the future. “I have a strong faith and that keeps me going,” he says in a moment of reflection at the end of yet another long day. “My kids,” he jokes, “are always rehearsing what they are going to say at my funeral. We have some laughs about it.”
The key to a long, productive life, he insists, is an exceptional attitude and a great work ethic. “You never pout,” he says. “There’s always another day.”
(Greg O’Brien is president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and political/communications strategy company based in Brewster on Cape Cod. The author/editor of several books, he contributes to various regional and national publications.)