Maybe you’ve never heard of Martin Franklin, but you’ve probably bought something from him.

He’s the man behind Jarden Corp., and Jarden is the company behind Mr. Coffee machines, Coleman camping gear and Sunbeam can openers, to name just a few of its brands.

Franklin has turned around Jarden since he took over 10 years ago, when the company was called Alltrista Corp. and known mostly for home-canning jars and shrinking sales. Under Franklin’s leadership, Jarden sold off one troubled unit, paid down debt and started buying up companies that sold niche products, including carbon monoxide detectors, crockpots and playing cards. He’s grown the company from about $300 million in annual revenue to $6 billion.

Next month Franklin will hand over the CEO reins to Jim Lillie, his chief operating officer, but stay on as executive chairman. Franklin said the change was his idea, and will free him to work on longer-term strategies. Franklin recently sat down with The Associated Press to talk about the company he’s built and how he did it.

Q: You’ve bought a pretty eclectic mix of brands, like the FoodSaver vacuum sealers and Rawlings baseball gloves. How do you know you’re not buying something that’s going to blow up later?

A: It’s all about not being arrogant and using common sense, and how much we pay. We’ve made about 15 acquisitions, but there are probably 300 that we could have done but didn’t. We don’t buy a business unless it adds to earnings up front. People use synergies as an excuse to overpay for something.


Q: Don’t you think there’s a risk of getting too big?

A: We do our own due diligence. We visit every business, we meet every manager. Companies our size usually ask an investment bank to come up and make a presentation (about companies they want to buy). We haven’t bought any business out of an investment banker’s book.

Q: What is it like when you buy a company and have to make layoffs?

A: We’ve had one or two acquisitions where we’ve moved the businesses literally out of town, and we’ve always erred on the side of being very upfront and very generous on the severance end. You don’t leave people hanging. You say, “This is the plan, this is why it makes sense, this is what we’re going to do.” And you do it yourself — you don’t send down someone else.

Q: Your dad, Roland Franklin, was well known as a corporate takeover artist in the ’80s. What did you learn from him?

A: The most important lesson he taught me is how to treat people. You treat the janitor with the same level of respect and dignity as you treat the CEO, and sometimes more than the CEO.


Q: You’ve said that you would get rid of Jarden’s corporate headquarters in Rye, N.Y., if you could, because BlackBerrys and other technology make it unnecessary. Really?

A: Ian, Jim and I (chief financial officer Ian G.H. Ashken and COO Jim Lillie) and a small team, about seven or eight of us, are in our headquarters in Rye. Sometimes employees come visit and they’re surprised that they can walk through the headquarters offices of Jarden in about 30 seconds. There is no chief marketing officer, there is no head of sales. I could create all these positions, but we’d rather empower the marketing officers inside each individual business to do their job. If we hired a chief marketing officer, all they would do is shuffle paper.

Q: So what benefits does centralized management offer your various companies?

A: We try to use the virtues of a large corporation to help our businesses. We can leverage shipping costs, purchasing power, marketing. We create a culture where the headquarters is there to serve the management of the businesses, not the other way around.

Q: On a personal note, you’ve competed in Ironman triathlons and ultra-marathons. What drives you?

A: For me, they’re not athletic, they’re full of spiritual experience. But I don’t highly recommend them. Nobody should run 40 hours.

Q: What do you mean, spiritual experience?

A: I’m in the ideas business, and I’ve never had a good idea in the office. I need to be away from the phone and the hustle and bustle. I’m going to race across the Sahara for five days in October, and I’ll be very productive. But will I be sitting behind a desk pushing paper around? No.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.