Ray E. Martin

Civil Engineering
Class of 1964, BS; Class of 1968, MS

When Ray Martin was walking to a meeting in downtown Richmond in 1999, he took out his cell phone and made a call about engineering needs at Virginia Tech to philanthropist Beverly Dalton, the chair of English Construction Co., of Lynchburg, Virginia. The impulsive act eventually resulted in a $250,000 gift to help build a new geotechnical engineering laboratory at the university, completed two years after his phone call.

Martin wasn’t satisfied with his one conversation. He made several other phone calls that week, and in less than two months, received commitments that — with matching monies — totaled approximately $925,000 for the new facility. In addition to spearheading the fundraising effort, Martin and his wife Carol personally contributed $50,000 to the project.

“I guess he just got tired of hearing us make presentations about the need for money to build our lab,” grins Tom Brandon, a member of the geotechnical engineering faculty.

The adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” definitely applies when you are working with Ray Martin. His mind is often working so fast that his wife says he tells ‘seven stories before he finishes one.’”

Martin’s devotion to Virginia Tech landed him back in yet another volunteer role in 2002 as the co-chair on the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) Task Force, a group that promoted the need for Virginia Tech to create a research institute, patterned after the highly successful Beckman Institute and the Georgia Tech Research Institute. This task force brought a high level of public awareness to the research institute, including gubernatorial and Virginia General Assembly support for three immediate building projects. As Virginia House of Delegates member Joe May once said, “I think Ray had my number on speed dial.”

“As a successful businessman, I understand the value of people working together for a common goal. I believe that Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering’s proposal to lead the university in its development of ICTAS will result in an elevation of its critical research that will reverberate throughout the state,” Martin says as a reason why he took on this project.

Martin was not always the overachiever. In fact, in high school, he says his grades were far from stellar. He credits his normally quiet mother for his bachelor’s degree. “My mother decided I was going to college. I replied I wasn’t going. Then she drove me to Bluefield College where I met with the dean. It was a very strict Baptist school at the time, and he told me that they did not allow this, and they did not allow that. There would be no smoking, no drinking, no nothing. Again, I said I wasn’t going,” Martin laughs today.

His mother prevailed and things became more palatable after he met his future wife, Carol, in the college town. He decided to pursue Bluefield’s reciprocal agreement with Virginia Tech, and transferred to the Blacksburg campus his junior year so that he could remain geographically close to Carol. They married in 1963 after his junior year, and he says his best grades came his senior year in civil engineering while Carol worked as a secretary to the department head.

After graduation he joined B&O Railroad following a childhood fascination with the transportation industry. Trains remain one of Martin’s passions, but he soon found out that working for the industry was not the same as loving trains as a boy. So he decided to return to Virginia Tech after a year to pursue his graduate degree. But he and Carol already had two children in tow, so he needed a paycheck. He taught civil technology at Bluefield State College three days a week, and commuted from Bluefield to graduate school the other three, as Virginia Tech still offered Saturday classes in the late 1960s. He continued this grueling schedule for three years, obtaining his master’s in 1968.

He really had the hang of academics now and made his mother proud as he moved his family to Morgantown, West Virginia, where he pursued his doctorate at West Virginia University. Finishing his Ph.D. coursework in two years, he moved to Caldwell, New Jersey, where he worked as a senior staff engineer for Joseph F. Ward Associates (currently Converse Consultants), a geotechnical firm. “I enjoyed the job and we did a lot of work in downtown New York City, but Carol and I wanted to get back closer to home and the great Virginia Tech football team,” Martin, an avid fan, laughs. So on his way back to the South, he defended his dissertation in 1972, and he started work for the northern Maryland-based Schnabel Engineering Associates, a geotechnical firm with about 12 employees, owned by James Schnabel.

Two years later, Martin opened the first branch office of Schnabel in Richmond, Virginia, and was named an associate of the firm. In 1984 he became a principal with Schnabel and led the Richmond office until he became president of the firm in 1988. In 1993, he became the chief executive officer (CEO).

“Jim and I were like oil and water,” Martin recalls. “He is a very conservative Catholic. He was not interested in growing the company. I finally convinced him to let me open the office in Richmond, and then I just kept pushing. We opened 14 offices from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Atlanta, Georgia, and had 300 employees before I left and it is still growing. I guess I knew just how far I could push.”

“If I see something I want, I’ll do it. I set reasonable goals. For instance, when I was the CEO of Schnabel, I’d project that we would grow at a certain percentage annually, and make sure this was sustainable. We did it through the acquisition of smaller companies. There is not a lot of difference between what I did for Schnabel, what I do with my current consulting business, and what I have done for Virginia Tech. It’s fun. That’s why I get up in the morning.” Martin says.

When Jim Schnabel retired in 2001, Martin added chairman of the board to his CEO title until he left the company the following year at the age of 60. “I retired because I wanted to do something different at 60,” he says. Martin started writing a book on leadership, but then his individual consulting business started to absorb more of his time. Martin’s primary engineering practice today relates to design and rehabilitation of dams and consulting on building foundations. He is now billing upwards of 1,200 hours a year, not exactly a retiree’s schedule.

Among Martin’s numerous geotechnical consulting projects during his career are: the Landlevel Ship Construction Facility at Newport News Shipyard; the James Center Office Buildings, Richmond, Virginia; Coors Shenandoah Brewery, Elkton, Virginia; the Deep Creek Dam, Yadkinville, North Carolina; dam inspections in Brazil; and the geotechnical design of a 242-foot-high Clifford Craig Dam in Roanoke County. Most recently, he consulted with the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, worked on a due diligence study of hydro dams in Peru and on earthquake issues related to an LNG terminal in Sonora, Mexico.

He remains one of the College of Engineering’s most active alumni. He served as chair of its Advisory Board twice and as a member for more than 20 years. He was a member of the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Advisory Board from 1987 through 1993. In recognition of his service, the College of Engineering presented Martin with the Distinguished Service Award in 1993 and its Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2003. He is also a member of the Ut Prosim Society of Virginia Tech.

A registered professional engineer in nine states and the District of Columbia, Martin is a former president of the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers, which presented him with its Distinguished Service Award in 1982. He has been inducted into Tau Beta Pi and Chi Epsilon and is a member and a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia where he taught Foundation Engineering.

Among his memberships in professional societies, Martin served on the Geotechnical Engineering Committee, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., 2001-2003; the Organizing Committee, ASCE Specialty Conference, “2001 A Geo Odyssey Foundation Conference,” Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, June 2001; and the Joint Senate-House Subcommittee, Virginia General Assembly, 1983-84, for its study on how Virginia can best maintain high quality engineering programs in its public institutions of higher education.

Martin has been a member of Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church since 1974 and has been active as Finance Committee Chairman, Administrative Board Chairman and a senior high Sunday school teacher for a number of years. He also has served on numerous citizens committees for the Town of Ashland related to planning and economic development.

Ray and his wife Carol live in Ashland where they own the Henry Clay Inn. They have a son, Tim, who owns a geotechnical firm in Pennsylvania, and two daughters, Ann-Carol who runs the Inn, and Susan, who is also an innkeeper. They have four grandchildren: Nathanael, Mariah, Ryan, and Anna-Laura. They also have an “unofficially” adopted member of their family, Frank Straus.

Class of: 1964, 1968
Year Inducted into Academy: 2008

Dr. Ray E. Martin