Lessons from Dr. James Martin

Map Insights
Helen P. Macasaet

Posted on July 09, 2013

AS I got off the plane last June 25, 2013, someone called me and said, “Have you heard the news? Your mentor Dr. James Martin passed away.” While waiting for my luggage at the airport, I was teary-eyed and felt a deep sadness all the way to my trip to the hotel. I opened my laptop and confirmed the news. My mentor and greatest boss passed away at the age of 79 in a swimming accident by the waters of his Bermuda mansion. I have to acknowledge that Dr. James Martin is the person who has had the greatest impact on my ICT thinking up to this day.

In the early ’90s while I was Chief Information Officer of a Philippine bank, I got the offer to grow a start-up firm named James Martin & Co. (Philippines). Back then, I thought that I was too young and inexperienced to start, grow, and lead that business. After a few interviews, I started to get excited about the idea of bringing James Martin and his thinking to Asia. Why wouldn’t I?

According to Computer World, Dr. James Martin is ranked as 4th among 25 individuals who have influenced the world of ICT. The Sunday Times calls him Britain’s leading futurist. Back in the ’90s, he had already written the most textbooks than any other living person. The Wired Society was a best-selling book which received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. I had no doubt that I would be working with an IT guru.

As the Consulting Center Director of James Martin & Co. (Philippines), I was privileged to speak with Dr. James Martin up close and personal during his trips to Asia, including the Philippines. He delivered seminars and talks, one of which was to the members of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

One time I asked him, “Why do we have to really understand all the company problems and offer our IT solutions?” He answered, “What we want to do is improve the quality of lives of people in the Philippines and around the world.” Since then, this simple but profound answer from Dr. Martin has been guiding and driving the way I do ICT on a day-to-day basis. On a technical level, I have applied his methods on business re-engineering, retooling ICT departments, enterprise engineering, and many more in my ICT projects.

I remember Dr. Martin having two personas. He is fatherly and soft-spoken when he is more relaxed. While on a river cruise in Bangkok, I remember him observing life in Asia and talking to me about several ways of eliminating poverty. Immediately on the following day, his authoritative persona would come out as he delivered his talks, towering on-stage, in front of several business leaders.

Some of the greatest contributions of Dr. Martin to ICT include methods on how software can be measured (software engineering) and integrated change methods for organizations undergoing change (enterprise engineering). His books Cybercorp and The Great Transition were both comprehensive in integrating the many issues which involve people, technology, and business strategy -- for corporate success and for being a value-creating enterprise. These books written in the early ’90s were prophesies and warning bells as to what would happen to corporations these days. They were both very positive in crafting pragmatic plans on how to become the kind of company that constantly evolved and adapted to fast-changing demands, including being in cyberspace.

Recently, he wrote a book entitled The Meaning of the 21st Century which also features a film (of the same title) narrated by Michael Douglas. The book narrates his views on the current state of global affairs -- including massive problems like the effects of global warming and climate change. He mentions other mega problems, some of which are even more dangerous than the aforementioned. He delivers good news in the form of possible solutions -- that young people must be taught to understand this century and they must be given the confidence to transform their lifestyles and learn the solutions to this century’s mega problems.

The legacy of Dr. Martin continues at the grounds of the Oxford University where he founded The James Martin 21st Century School in 2005 with £60 million. The school is a unique, inter-disciplinary research initiative addressing key global future challenges. In 2009, a $50-million matched funding challenge was initiated by Dr. Martin. The challenge was an unprecedented success, matching the donations of 30 different donors (individual philanthropists, charities, corporations, and research bodies) resulting in 19 new research programs. As a result of this expansion, the school re-launched under a new name in 2010 as The Oxford Martin School.

Dr. Martin has given back to the world and has always been true to his towering form when he delivered his lectures. He is still alive in all his research programmes, empowering the next generation and truly making the world a better place.

I would like to say one big “Thank You!” to my late mentor and boss, Dr. James Martin. May he rest in peace.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is the chairman of MAP’s ICT committee and president and CEO of Pentathlon Systems Resources, Inc. Feedback at <map@globelines.com.ph> and <hpmacasaet@pentathlonsystems.com>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)