My Week: Gary Martin of Martin Construction

Property veteran Gary Martin made his first million by the age of 17. Now trying his hand at construction, MT caught up with him to talk family business, starting from scratch, and the Irish property crash

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

When I was 16 years old, I bought my first property. I had been saving my First Communion money to buy a car but I decided that a house was a better investment. It was a pretty painful decision. My dad counter-signed the mortgage and I put the cash down for a deposit on a £45,000 house. Three weeks later I sold the place for £86,000 and that’s how I got into the property business.

I built up the company over the next few years, buying and selling properties. I even launched my own estate agency to sell them. That was how I managed to avoid getting caught up in Ireland’s property crash. When things started to go bad, I sold off most of my portfolio in time.

Two years ago, I decided I wanted to get back into the property industry. This time though, I wanted to do construction. I had no contacts, no history in the business; it was a complete start-up. So I started to set up meetings, go to events and get on the phone. I would talk to anyone who would talk to me. Now, we have projects with the Howard de Walden estate, and we’re in the middle of building a Tesco Express. All our projects are worth upwards of £0.5m.

The great thing about working in construction is the variety. One minute you’ll be in the office of some head of a global company, worth billions, the next you’re putting your hard hat on at a building site. Last week I was over in LA visiting the Zappos HQ. That’s an internet business that’s gone from zero to a billion dollars in 12 years. It was hugely eye opening to see how they do things.

I like to be on the move a lot. I usually spend half my time out of the office, visiting our building schemes and looking for new opportunities. I prefer to walk around a neighbourhood, talk to people there, find out about a problem tenant, or a planned retail development nearby. There’s only so much you can see from behind a desk.

This business, as with all my ventures – I run a couple in the hair and beauty space too – is a family business. I work with my brothers: I’m the numbers guy. The great thing about working with family is that if I’m ever off the mark, they care enough to intervene. We talk about business all the time. Business is life, or at least it touches every part of your life.

I love being an entrepreneur. Success is great but mostly it’s still about the craic, as they say in Ireland. It feels a bit like playing Monopoly sometimes. And we're doing well in construction, which is an industry getting the arse kicked out of it. If I can be successful when it’s this tough, it makes me wonder just what else I could do…

Find out more about Martin Construction

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