Summer People: Marty Homlish

Marty Homlish — Photo by Caroline McCullough

Marty Homlish is the chief marketing officer of Hewlett-Packard and an active contributor to the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Possible Dreams Auction. He is a summer person and the fourth subject of a new, weekly MVTimes series, Summer People, whose goal is to introduce readers to their summer neighbors, some of them prominent and extraordinarily accomplished, some whose lives are less exalted, all of them Islanders in their own ways. How do they describe their connections to the Vineyard and their seasonal Island neighbors? How do they describe their off-Island lives?

Last Friday morning, Marty Homlish was looking forward to that evening’s début of a television commercial for Hewlett-Packard, where he is Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). The commercial was to air during the opening night of the Olympics. Panting at his side, Chappy the Labrador was looking forward to playing fetch.

A permanent resident of Pleasantville, New York, and a seasonal resident of Edgartown, Mr. Homlish worked in marketing at Sony for 16 years, 11 years at the software company SAP, and recently began his job at HP. He spoke with convincing but causal inflections.

The Katama skies were cloudy, and Mr. Homlish’s glasses were tinted in the bright gray light. His yellow shirt matched his daughter Kim’s yellow dress. Every now and then, she came out to the porch to say hello, to deliver pastries and to wrangle the dog back inside.

Mr. Homlish called Chappy “the world’s biggest puppy. He has the face of an angel, but he’s a devil.” He told the story of Chappy’s predecessor Merlin, who departed Wasque one day for a three-mile swim. At the time, Kim was a devastated little girl, thinking she would never see her puppy again. Eventually Merlin swam to the rip, and the current pulled him safely back to shore. The Homlishes named their next dog after Merlin’s favorite island.

Kim is one of four Homlish children. The morning he entertained a reporter, his oldest daughter, Caroline, was on vacation in Capri. She is soon to return from Europe, finishing her job as Head Marketing and Digital Communications at Alexander McQueen. His son Chris was away on a business trip. He is a supervising producer of the culinary reality show Top Chef. Mr. Homlish said that when he launched the video game system, PlayStation, for Sony, Chris thought he was the world’s coolest dad.

The two younger daughters, Kate and Kim, are both on the Island for the summer, helping to organize this Monday’s Possible Dreams Auction to benefit Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

Mr. Homlish has attended the Possible Dreams Auction since the 1970s, when he started coming to the Vineyard. He and his wife, Joanne, began supporting the Possible Dreams Auction 10 years ago.

“Some of my really close friends here are people who live here year-round. This is a beautiful paradise, but when all the tourists leave, it’s hard to make a living here,” Mr. Homlish said, explaining his commitment to the multi-agency social service organization. “The cost of living is much higher, and there are a lot of people who need support. That’s why Community Services does a great job, whether they support children and their educational programs, or substance abuse programs. The auction really does wonderful things for the Island.”

In 2005, as president and CEO of SAP Global Marketing Inc., Mr. Homlish donated a raffle prize trip to Maui for the opening event of the PGA Golf Tour. This year, Hewlett-Packard will underwrite the event’s dinner.

Advanced technology allows Mr. Homlish to work from Martha’s Vineyard. But, “One of the problems of always being connected is that you are always connected,” he said. before admitting that once he even presented to a board meeting over the phone, while on his boat off Chappaquiddick.

His girls have turned their Pursuit center console, meant for fishing, into a “luxury liner,” pulling out the rod holders and replacing the well in the bow with a sun deck. Mr. Homlish said he only fishes a little bit anyway.

“I’m a captain,” he said, “and I have all the ladies that like to go cruising.” The family likes to take the boat for ice cream on Cuttyhunk, passing what they call “Cow Island.”

Mr. Homlish said he is most at ease when he is on his boat, especially when he is alone. While afloat, he decided to switch from his job at SAP to HP. He wanted to change because he thought he had done what he had been hired to do at SAP. He was excited by the responsibility and challenge of telling Hewlett-Packard’s yet untold — yet unwritten — story. He wanted to help change the perception of the brand, “to move the brand needle in the right direction,” as he put it.

“We want the world to know that behind every bit of technology, there are people. And there are people that are creating the technology, there are people who are delivering the technology, and there are people who are enjoying the technology. Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t bring any value.

“The most important thing about any marketing or advertising is it has to be authentic. It has to be believable. That is the acid test. The core of everything is you have to just tell the truth.”

Almost every fall, he brings his senior business leaders to the Vineyard for a retreat. Here, he holds elaborate competitions ranging from clam digging in Katama to pumpkin carving at the FARM Institute. He said about 50 percent of the people he introduces to the Island return. Recently, he helped two German families rent houses.

“Sometimes I am the ambassador to Martha’s Vineyard for Europe,” Mr. Homlish said.

As ambassador, Mr. Homlish keeps his international colleagues updated on Island news. He said he sent a story about a mishap involving a turkey all over the world.

Mr. Homlish said he reads the Island papers even when he’s off Island. They relax him. “I open up one of the Island papers, and I say ‘Oh, what am I worried about? They have big things going on up there. They’ve got the roundabout to worry about.'”