A facilitator who gets things done, Magic CEO Alex Martins is the first private citizen to lead the 50 Most Powerful list.
Alex Martins arrives at his Amway Center office shortly after dropping off his two young daughters at school, the clock ticking toward 8 a.m. on another nonstop day that won’t see him home until 11 that night. Busy? Martins shoehorns more into a workday than most people do into an entire week. On this day, in addition to running the Orlando Magic, there is a working lunch with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (No. 3) and one of an endless succession of board meetings that evening. Martins serves on 10 boards of directors that bring him into contact with some of the most influential civic and business leaders in Central Florida.
Martins’ main focus, of course, is overseeing the Magic as its CEO, a role he took over last December just as the NBA ended a labor dispute that disrupted the start of the season. If that and the truncated season weren’t enough turmoil, the team’s franchise player, Dwight Howard, announced he wanted to be traded. Martins immediately went to work on the superstar center, whose importance to Orlando extends far beyond the basketball court. Doing what he does best, Martins opened fresh lines of communication and worked through issues, finding common ground and building a relationship from it. His efforts eventually proved critical in persuading Howard to backpedal from his trade demands—at least for the rest of the 2011-12 season. Martins, however, was prepared to make the tough decision and trade Howard. As the March 15 NBA trade deadline approached, he says he had “a half-dozen” deals in place.
But no sooner had he averted that crisis, bringing a collective sigh of relief to not only Magic fans but to Dyer and downtown merchants near the arena, as well as the various charities Howard supports here, than he was blindsided by another. Except this time, his diplomatic skills were limited by cell phone coverage.
In early April, Martins took his family on the Disney Fantasy’s maiden voyage for what was supposed to be some quiet time away in the Caribbean. Or so he thought. “I was little surprised,” he says, “that at one of those times when I was able to receive communications, my phone started going berserk.”
It was nothing major. Just then-Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy telling reporters that “people in our management” had told him Howard wanted him fired. Howard denied it. But six weeks later, while saying Howard never asked him directly to fire Van Gundy, Martins dismissed the winningest coach in the franchise’s history. The Magic also “parted ways” with General Manager Otis Smith, setting the stage for Martins to make his biggest and boldest decisions yet concerning the future of the team, which ironically may include trading Howard.
Rise to the Top
It is Martins’ ability as a facilitator and his reputation as someone who gets things done, no matter how complicated or thorny the issue, that has made him a powerful insider in Orlando. It is why Martins’ days are so long and his presence ubiquitous in so many of Orlando’s important organizations, issues and initiatives. And it is why Martins, who last year ranked No. 3, tops Orlando magazine’s 2012 50 Most Powerful People list, the first private citizen to reach that summit. The mayors of Orlando and Orange County and the president of UCF—all public employees—have held the No. 1 spot since the list’s inception in 2004.
“He has the corporate ear of our community,” says Dyer, who rarely goes a week without sharing a working lunch with Martins at City Hall. “Alex is as influential in the community as any executive in major league sports.”
Pick a game-changing move, any of the city’s game-changing moves in the last five years, and you’ll find Martins’ fingerprints on it, from coaxing Gov. Rick Scott to approve SunRail to helping lure the Burnham Institute for Medical Research here to overseeing the construction of the Amway Center to taking on a similar role with the new downtown performing arts center to … well, you get the idea.
All the political, business and charitable initiatives Martins is involved in reads like a run-on sentence. In addition to all the aforementioned activities, he also is chairman of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, on the boards of Visit Orlando (formerly known as the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau), Coalition for the Homeless, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and the Central Florida board of directors for Seaside National Bank & Trust.
That he runs the only major league sports franchise in Orlando no doubt makes Martins an even more influential executive in the city. But he also has that rare knack—a gift, really—for maneuvering past political potholes to reach a resolution. His power doesn’t come necessarily from strength, but rather his ability to be flexible, and to get others to bend, too.
“I’m a people person,” he says with a smile. “I’m also an optimist by nature. From my optimistic point of view, once you take emotion out of the situation, you can get two people to see common ground. I love the challenge. I relish the opportunity to bring parties together and find a compromise or come to a solution to a problem that may not be exactly what everybody wants but ultimately allows all the parties to achieve what their goals are.”
It was Martins who, in March 2011, helped defuse the dust-up between Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs (No. 2) over DPAC’s construction contracts. Martins, then the president of the Magic, accepted the challenge of heading a new watchdog-style board that would oversee work on the performing arts center. Having supervised the construction of the $450 million Amway Center, which opened on time and on budget in October 2010, Martins was imminently qualified for the post, one of several so-called volunteer duties he manages around his day job.
He also meets with Dyer weekly to discuss DPAC’s progress, and the mayor seeks his advice on other issues as well.
A recent event that testified to Martins’ position as a widely respected leader in Orlando was his presence at the funeral for Visit Orlando’s president and CEO, Gary Sain (No. 5). With about 1,500 people gathered at Northland, A Church Distributed, in Longwood, in May to pay their respects to Sain, Martins gave the most eloquent and moving eulogy by an official speaker.
‘Way Beyond the First Mile’
Back in 1989, when then-Magic General Manager Pat Williams hired a 25-year-old Martins as the NBA’s youngest public relations director, he knew he had someone special. “You could tell right away he was going to go way beyond the first mile,” Williams says. Just a year into working PR, the business side of the operation intrigued Martins. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I started setting my sights on being in the chair that I’m in today,” he says. He asked for more work and responsibility. Then he went back to college to get an MBA, after which he went to work for other pro sports organizations—the Cleveland Browns and the New Orleans Hornets—before returning to the Magic.
Even though sports is where Martins got his start, he doesn’t see it as his finish line. “Ultimately, I want the Magic’s impact to be Orlando’s first world championship in a major professional sport,” he says. “But it goes beyond that. Hopefully it’s the piece that we already execute on all the time, and that’s to have a major impact on Central Florida and the quality of life in Central Florida.”
Every person on the Magic’s leadership team sits on at least one community board. The Magic’s staff annually provides more than 6,000 volunteer hours, with the organization estimating that its community relations programs impact upward of 75,000 children each year. Nobody in the organization, though, does more than Martins. He is a CEO who takes the lead in every way, and nothing pleases him more. He talks about recently visiting the Apopka Boys & Girls Club.
“We put in a dozen brand-new computers and refurbished the whole place, put games and books in there. When we opened the doors and the kids went inside for the first time in weeks, their screams were just as gratifying as the screams I hear when we make a great play on the court. That’s part of the impact I want our organization to have on the quality of life in Central Florida.”
The Magic certainly have an impact on the city’s economy. “You can almost build a business around his business,” Doug Taylor (No. 34), co-owner of six downtown nightclubs, says about Martins. “Amway Center adds 10 percent to my baseline, with the Magic a big part of that. And I didn’t have to do anything other than exist.”
Taylor, who heads a group of merchants that promotes Church Street as an entertainment destination, says the future for downtown looks brighter because Martins got involved in the construction of DPAC and the Magic have expressed interest in building a $100 million sports and entertainment complex with office and hotel space directly across from the Amway Center, a project Martins says the organization is currently researching.
“That’s one person involved in the three most important projects in Orlando,” Taylor says, referencing the completed Amway Center as the third project. “I think Alex Martins sees his role as a greater presence in Orlando.”
That’s why his days are so long, his presence so pervasive and his influence so far-reaching. In short, that’s why he is the most powerful person in Orlando.