Product managers choose which products and software to build next and help manage research, design, testing, and go-to-market strategy. They’re also the head of the product development and management teams, meaning they also need to manage information and make sure everyone is clear on their objectives. Christie® employs several product managers. Let’s get to know Brad Martin.
When I first met Brad several years ago at Christie, it was over a group lunch at an outdoor restaurant, inside a cordoned-off area of downtown Toronto during the 2010 G20 Summit. Christie projection technology was part of the event. Sitting around the table on that sunny afternoon, Brad mentioned how eerie it was being in Canada’s most populous city and among a select few granted access after a rigorous security check. Fast forward ten years and Brad Martin is now settling into his new role as a senior product manager at Christie, responsible for over 170 skus – many recently added to his portfolio.
After a dozen years and a variety of roles at Christie, what makes the St. Thomas, Ontario (pop. 41,000, located 120 km southwest of Christie’s Kitchener facility) native tick and what excites him about working at Christie. We decided to find out and asked him our (in)famous 20 Questions.
Christie: You grew up in St. Thomas, not far from London, Ontario. Tell us about growing up there.
Brad Martin: I was going to make a joke that there are some famous people from St. Thomas like Rachel McAdams, Joe Thornton the hockey player, and me, Brad Martin. Well, the shopping was much better in London (population 400,000) so everyone would go there. You’re not too far from Port Stanley on Lake Erie so we had access to the beach in the summertime; I really like the small-town feel. My family grew up there and I went to the same high school as my parents did. There are a lot of generations of Martins there.
Christie: You and your wife became parents for the first time a couple of years ago, that must have been life-changing.
BM: Yeah, our son Lincoln was born 19 months ago, and he keeps me busy. Right now, he’s really into playing hockey with dad. We have the little mini-sticks and we play almost every day.
Christie: You studied electrical engineering at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, what drew you to that field?
BM: I was interested in being an electrician, but my dad was encouraging me more toward academics because my grades were pretty good. So, he said, why don’t you explore electrical engineering instead. I was always fascinated with electricity, but I’ve since taken my MBA and I’m more business focused now but balance it with the technical background.
Christie: Let’s talk about your career path and how you eventually ended up at Christie.
BM: I started out as a product developer at a medium-sized company called DALSA, which is now Teledyne DALSA, in Waterloo, not far from Christie. I started my career as a product developer for high-speed digital cameras. Ironically, I roomed with Allan Fernandes (Christie’s senior product manager for Cinema) for over five years when I came out of school. Both Al and Bryan Neves (electrical engineer) worked at Christie (and still do) and they were always telling me how good it is. We'd have poker nights with a lot of the Christie folks, and I became friends with a lot of them. And eventually a posting came up, I applied, got the job, and came to Christie 12 years ago.
Christie: What excites you about working at Christie 12 years later?
BM: When I started here, we were launching one of the world's first mercury lamp products. Up until then, everything was about Xenon-based products. And I remember the Christie M Series, which is among the most successful products that Christie has ever developed. And it was something nobody had, which was a 10,000-lumen projector in a small form factor and there was so much excitement around this product that everyone was going to buy. I had just started and two weeks later I went to the InfoComm trade show and this brand-new product was there for its launch. There were crowds and crowds of people coming by the Christie booth to see this projector that no one had thought was possible to make. You could see everyone was amazed at all this. I’m seeing this and thinking, “Wow, this little, or at least I thought it was little, company in Kitchener designs the brightest projectors in the world.”
Christie: And Christie still designs the brightest projectors.
BM: We do still do that today and now the technology has evolved where we’ve gone from lamp to laser. Christie has always been a market leader in what we do. That’s what gets me excited to come in here every day.
Christie: Back then, though, you weren’t a senior product manager responsible for a large lineup. Take us through your career path at Christie.
BM: I started in design validation where my job was really to find issues with the product – always thinking from a customer standpoint. In a sense, I tried to break the product and if I could find something wrong, I did a good job. With that job, there is software testing to make sure the features and functionality work but there is real-world testing where you are pressing six buttons all at once. I was quite good at doing that and did it for a few years. But then the director of engineering says, “You’re good at finding bugs, why don’t you come and run the engineering QA team for business products.”
Christie: What did you like about that new role?
BM: It was great. I was made team leader of engineering QA where I had a small team of people that worked on testing the product and not just software testing. Throughout that role I become much more customer-facing and I would get to go to the trade shows and visit our biggest clients. I was the voice of the customer and gave feedback on any technical issues. I was the point of contact for our key customers, which helped when we launched Christie Boxer®.
We were building up our Shenzhen, China facility, so I went there several times to do testing and helped hire product testers. I would travel around to our offices and do product training. I was using my technical background and providing understanding the product from a system perspective.
Christie: When did you move into product management?
BM: About three years ago. It was kind of a natural evolution and a good fit. I was in 3LCD and 1DLP® and recently also took over the 3DLP® product line as well and moved into a senior role. I started in 3DLP.
Christie: A big part of your job is launching products; can you give us a high-level explanation of how it happens?
BM: That’s the best part - launching new products. Working with the teams, you make sure the new programs are on track. I rely heavily on my program managers for the updates but I’m constantly hearing about new features on the market and talking to customers; they all want something new or something they’ve seen. At trade shows, customers’ sites, or when they visit the factory, I ask what they want out of a Christie projector. What do you like? What don't you like? I’ll take all that information, bring it back to the team, and make a better product for the customers. Solving a market problem or a customer need is really the key to product management.
Christie: What product launches stand out for you and why?
BM: When I started at Christie, we had a small 1DLP line and, at the time, the brightest 1DLP product was 3000 lumens. We’ve since launched 1DLP products at 20,000 lumens, which is something that no one ever thought possible. That’s a tribute to advances in technology and everything getting smaller and brighter. So, at 20,000 lumens, we have the lightest and brightest 1DLP on the market and it’s a real statement piece for Christie being a market leader.
Christie: Take us through a typical week of yours. Or is there such a thing as a typical week?
BM: As a product manager, you’re the voice of the customer in many ways but you’re also a real communications conduit. A typical week means lots of communications to our sales staff. There is also communication of technical issues – if any – within my product lines (3LCD, 1DLP, 3DLP) where I organize my team and discuss how we’re going to solve them; I work with engineering and then I continually feed back to the customers and sales. I communicate with people all over the world. I also do market research, which is something I really enjoy. We use a consulting firm and they provide post-market data for digital projection, so you can see what’s happening in the industry and who is doing what. I take all this data and I see where Christie can position to win. I see where our products stand, how much market share we have, how we can capture more market share, what we need to do better and things like that. So, I'll work with marketing to launch a promotion in a certain region to drive sales, for example. Product management's accountable for a lot of the inventory so I ensure our inventories are under control.
Christie: It sounds like you have a full schedule and besides communicating with people around the world, you’ve also piled up the frequent flyer miles. What’s the farthest away you’ve been and what did you learn about yourself personally and professionally?
BM: I’m very fortunate to have worked with Christie all around the world, whether it was for training in Japan or Europe, or Singapore, or spending time in our Shenzhen office to help build the teams over there.
Christie: Does any trip or trips particularly stand out for you?
BM: When we launched Boxer in 2015 the director of engineering and I flew to Singapore where we did a shootout between Boxer and a competitor product for which one would be used for Singapore National Day. I remember that we had to hoist the projectors up at a military base and we set it up in no time. It was literally an hour and we used our camera-based alignment system and there was a screen on the ground we had to project on. Our competitor was struggling to get the warp done long after we were done. We won and it was exciting not only to win but to showcase our technology and what it can do.
Christie: You’re there for work but did you get a chance to embrace the culture or cultures at all?
BM: Traveling – especially to the other side of the world – can be exhausting and like you said, you’re there for work, which doesn’t leave a lot of time. But, yeah, you’ll go for a team dinner or a customer dinner and you get to know people and how things are done somewhere else. I’ve made good friends around the globe and stay in contact with them.
Christie: So, off the road and not when you’re working, what keeps you occupied and what do you do during your downtime?
BM: My son takes up a lot of my spare time but one thing I like doing to relax is woodworking. I make bookshelves and other things; sometimes I’ll tackle kitchen cabinets. I also love playing hockey and have been playing with the Christie Thundercats for years.
Christie: Are you ready to tackle 20 Questions?
BM: Sure, let’s do it.
Christie: What were you really into as a kid?
BM: I loved playing hockey. My parents put me into skating, and I played competitive hockey all through high school. And as I mentioned, I still play today – with the Thundercats.
Christie: Did you have a role model growing up?
BM: My dad was and is a great role model to this day. He taught me that hard work will always pay off. Work hard and play hard.
Christie: Favorite type of food?
BM: Almost anything but what I do enjoy about traveling is enjoying the local cuisine and trying different things.
Christie: Favorite sports team(s)?
BM: Boston Bruins.
Christie: What kind of music do you listen to?
BM: Almost everything but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of country music. I go through stages where I’m listening to one genre and then it’s terrible and there’s nothing new and I switch back to the 1980s, then the 90s, then back to something new and different again.
Christie: What do you watch on TV or Netflix?
BM: I don’t watch much TV but when I do it’s something on the History Channel, like the Curse of Oak Island or something.
Christie: How about movie genres?
BM: I like a good action movie, something fast-paced. I also like a good drama like Good Will Hunting or something like that.
Christie: What is the last book you read?
BM: “Competing against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice.” Zoran Veselic recommended it.
Christie: Favorite city or country you’ve visited for work or otherwise?
BM: Singapore. It’s such a clean country with no garbage or littering and they have strict laws. What’s interesting is you’re on the other side of the world but English is the dominant language. I remember going there and having to do some laundry; I walked into a laundromat and the lady working there is speaking English. There are so many things to do in Singapore and the architecture and is beautiful. So is the harbor – it’s gorgeous.
Christie: Where would you like to visit that you haven’t been?
BM: I’m fortunate to have traveled to a lot of places but I’ve never been to Italy, so let’s go with Italy someday.
Christie: Beach vacation or mountains vacation?
BM: Beach vacation.
Christie: A piece of good advice you’ve been given that stands out?
BM: This one came from Christie’s former president Gerry Remers just after I got married. He congratulated me and I asked him for some advice, and he said, "Leave one thing unsaid every day." I don’t know if that’s the key to a good marriage but so far so good on following it.
Christie: What’s the craziest or most daring thing you’ve done?
BM: Skydiving. My parents thought that was pretty crazy when I did it back in my late teens.
Christie: What’s the craziest or most daring thing you’d like to try?
BM: Rent a high-end Porsche in Germany and drive it as fast as possible on the Autobahn.
Christie: Three things on your bucket list.
BM: I have a short-term bucket list that I knock off and then don’t add to it. I always wanted to go to Hawaii, so my wife and I went there for our honeymoon. I checked that one off, and I checked off the skydiving one that I mentioned. Another one was getting my MBA – which I got. I have things I want to achieve but I don’t really have a running bucket list.
Christie: What is your dream car?
BM: Probably the Porsche Cayman.
Christie: Person living or not, you'd like to have lunch with and pick their brain?
BM: I’d like to sit down with Bill Gates. His documentary on Netflix was really interesting; he seems like a great individual.
Christie: What's the most useful thing you own?
BM: My calendar.
Christie: If you could solve one world problem, what would it be?
BM: I would like to solve poverty so everyone could have a good quality of life.
Christie: In a parallel universe without limits, what are you doing or have done?
BM: Go back in time and develop a search engine called Google. Yeah, put that one down.