On the Job with Skylar Martin

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

"On the Job With..." is a regular feature of Sunday Inc. Today's feature is on Skylar Martin, independent insurance broker and real estate investor.

Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?

A. I think experience in the field that you are seeking is critically important. I don't see companies hiring and training these days. So, I think as a student that I would be involved in as many intern opportunities in my chosen field as possible. I know that as we recently looked at colleges for our daughter that schools touted the internship partnerships that they had available. Experience, I suspect, will always give you a leg up.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. I will date myself but an 8-track tape player is the first major purchase I remember.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Well, my family has gotten used to living indoors and eating regularly and that is a great motivator. Seriously, I am the only employee and motivation comes from the fact that I enjoy what I do. I work for a great group of customers that afford me the opportunity of being of service to them.

Q. What was your first job?

A. I grew up working as a welder, painter, truck driver and draftsman in the family business, Lewis Martin Steel Company. My first job outside the family was working in the Men's Department at Rosenberg's Department Store while I was attending Albany Junior College. I learned a lot about customer service from Ralph Rosenberg.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. I like to do things my way and I like the freedom and challenge that comes from working for myself.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. My father was a huge influence in my life. I learned the construction and real estate business from him. I also have an insurance mentor. In 1976 a gentleman by the name of Al Malins hired me to go to work for Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. He is responsible for my insurance career.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. Always have a fall-back position and don't stretch your self too thin. My Dad taught me that lesson in the mid-70's recession.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology -- examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. -- what would you most like to see go away?

A. I am hard pressed to say that I want any of them to go away. They all offer something that helps make me more effective and efficient. What I would like to change is the impersonal way in which we do business. I like "face time." I want to shake your hand and have a cup of coffee with you. I want to learn about your business, your family and what is going on in your life. I can't do that in an email or a text.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. iPad.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. I read a lot of motivational books. I am currently reading Eric Rees' book "Only You Can Be You". I also have a daily meditation that I read each morning. The last fiction I read was Steve Martin's novella "Shopgirl."

Q. I'm up and going by? And what is your morning routine?

A. I am up at 6 a.m. with the coffee already made. I read my morning meditation and then I watch the weather and maybe the sports before hitting the shower. I have a group of guys that I meet for breakfast every morning except on Fridays when I have breakfast with my daughter at Pearly's. We have been eating breakfast together there every Friday morning since she was 3. She is headed to Georgia College in the Fall and I will miss our special Daddy/Daughter time together.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I enjoy golf when I take time to play. I have a wood working shop and I have an old Mercedes Roadster that I like to play with.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I try not to look back but early in my insurance career I decided to leave the large New Orleans insurance agency that I was working for to move to Augusta to partner with an old friend in starting our own insurance agency. They say that there is always a lesson to be learned in adversity. Well, I left Augusta nine months later a much wiser person.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I have a great group of clients, many of whom I have had the privilege of working with for over 20 years.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. I find that the required use of those technology issues that we talked about earlier, cell phones, emails and automated phone systems and online input cut down on the personal contact that I get to have with the insurance companies that I represent. I miss the personal contact that I used to have with insurance company underwriters.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Banking.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I think I would enjoy being the executive director of a non-profit organization.

Q. Finish this thought; "on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...

A. I suspect that once I retire from the insurance business that I will just be more active in the real estate field. I would also like to spend more time working with some of the non-profit groups that I have worked with over the years.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Flexibility.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. Full swing, I am not too sure about that happening any time soon. I am seeing some improvement in the real estate market in the Albany area already. Not necessarily in single family housing but certainly in multi-family housing and light commercial. I do not expect to see what I will label economic recovery until late 2012 or early 2013. We are fortunate to be the retail and medical hub of a large agri-business-based region. Farm commodities have done well recently and the market remains strong for them in the near future. Farm land, especially irrigated farm land, is bringing an amazingly high price as farmers clamor for an opportunity to get a larger share of that market. All of this bodes well for our regional economic recovery too.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. I don't own an iPod, but on my iPad you will find mostly classical music. I really like all kinds of music though. I am not stuck on any one genre.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. We will see Albany grow East for a change. Maybe not so much in residential development but we will certainly see commercial and industrial development as MCLB continues to grow. I doubt seriously that Walmart went to East Albany on a lark.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?

A. The last vacation I have taken with my family is always the best.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. No surprise, technology has had a huge impact on the insurance business. Agencies are now paperless, storing all customer information on computers. Our company underwriters have access to huge amounts of information on business clients via client's websites. The claims adjusters can now map lightening strikes and hail storms so they can tell a client if they have a covered loss. We upload pictures of houses, buildings, cars and most any other thing that our underwriters, claims adjusters and safety engineers want to see. It makes us very efficient, but it is sometimes a very impersonal way to do business.