By Greg Olwell
C.F. Martin & Co. announced that it has named Thomas Ripsam as its new CEO. The news came in a June 14 press release, which stated that long-term CEO and Chairman Christian Frederick Martin IV would assume the role of Executive Chairman, while Ripsam steps into the CEO role immediately.
After years of refining and modernizing instrument building, reimagining its core product lines, and developing new models and pioneering new materials, the company’s shift to an established financial expert as chief executive could signal a desire to focus on the improving the legacy company’s business side. The Martin family maintains ownership, as it has since its founding by Christian Martin after his immigration to New York in 1833.
Though the timing was somewhat surprising, Chris Martin announced a few years ago that he would retire as CEO of the 188-year-old guitar maker and that the company had begun a search for a replacement. He leaves the role after 35 years as its head during a time of unprecedented growth, expansion to manufacturing of strings and budget-focused lines of guitars and ukuleles in Mexico, and facing the market challenges presented by competitors. The latter point led the company to reset its focus on higher quality instruments, increase consistency through CNC manufacturing, and producing wildly popular vintage-inspired instruments.
“I complete my term as NAMM Chairman this July at the show in Nashville, and I have been thinking about retiring for several years, so this felt like the right time,” Chris Martin says. “I look forward to transitioning to the role of Executive Chairman of Martin Guitar where I will continue to be a cheerleader for the Martin brand. I am excited to work with Thomas as he gets to know all of us and shares the love we all have for the guitar.”
Thomas Ripsam brings an impressive business pedigree to Nazareth. He has a long career in finance as a corporate growth strategist and is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and hold an MBA in Strategy & Finance from Columbia Business School and a BA in Business Administration and Management from Reutlingen University in Germany and Middlesex University in London. He is also an avid guitarist and guitar collector who took a sabbatical in 2019 to learn guitar making in a traditional Martin style.
“My first real acoustic was a Martin guitar, and it has been a close companion to me since,” Ripsam says. “Martin has always been an iconic fretted instrument builder and I have a deep appreciation for the company’s continued focus on quality, craftsmanship, and innovation, as well as its unique culture and history. I am honored and humbled to join the Martin family and to carry on the legacy of Chris Martin and his predecessors.”