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Born in Kankakee, Illinois, in 1907, Martin came into retail business with a background in welfare and education. After graduating in 1932 with an bachelor's from Illinois Wesleyan, he served as business manager for the school for three years. Martin spent the next 10 years working for a succession of social welfare agencies until 1945, when he moved to Indianapolis to serve as general superintendent of the Block department store chain.

He joined Carson Pirie Scott & Company in 1949 as general superintendent and personnel manager and rose to become chairman and director in 1971. In 1955, at the age of 48, he received his MBA from Chicago Booth. He also holds honorary LLD degrees from Illinois Wesleyan and DePaul universities.

His career as a dynamic business executive, philanthropist, and civic leader demonstrated the best principles of management and good citizenship. Martin served as director of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, Chicago Convention Bureau, and Inland-Ryerson Foundation, and as president and director of the Carson Pirie Scott Foundation. He also was a member of the National Conference on Social Welfare and served on the University of Chicago's Visiting Committee on the School of Social Service Administration. He was on the board of directors of a number of major corporations and served as a member of the board of trustees of Illinois Wesleyan University and Chicago Theological Seminary.