Overlooking Birmingham is a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge. As a young boy, Charles Caldwell Marks used to climb through a trap door between Vulcan’s feet, stand by the top of the statue’s head, and gaze down upon the city, a city on which he has had a tremendous impact.
When he was nominated for the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame, he was described as an accomplished businessman as well as a “dedicated servant leader who has worked hard to move this community and this state forward.”
Marks was born on top of Red Mountain to Charles Pollard Marks and Isabel Caldwell on June 1, 1921, and as a young man enjoyed hunting and fishing, and traveling with his parents. Most of his early education came at Birmingham University School.
He attended the University of the South and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He was also a member of Blue Key. After leaving Sewanee, Marks went to graduate studies at Cornell University, Harvard University, and The University of Alabama.
After graduation, he joined U.S. Steel but cut that short to join the Navy as World War II heated up. He enlisted as an officer candidate, then became a midshipman and served as a lieutenant aboard ship in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, part of it spent in escort duty protecting civilian freighters. Marks’ duties as an engineering officer proved to be valuable in civilian life. In 1945, Marks married his first wife, Jeanne Vigeant, and moved into a duplex in Mountain Brook, and began raising a family.
After World War II, on April 1, 1946, Marks and his friend Bill Spencer bought the Owen Richards Company, a small mill supply firm in Birmingham, beginning a long and illustrious business career. They sold off most of the firm’s inventory of other products and decided to focus on ball and roller bearings, gears, and mechanical power transmissions. Marks and Spencer changed the name to Motion Industries and took the company public in 1972. He served as president of Motion Industries until his retirement in 1983. In 2004, Motion Industries had sales exceeding $2.5 billion.
Marks’ next major project was helping in the formation of BE&K, a Birmingham-based, top construction company, specializing in high technology engineering, construction, environmental and maintenance services for the process industries. It was a natural fit because Motion Industries and BE&K had many of the same clients.
While he has been very successful in the business world, Marks has also been very involved in civic life. He has served on many boards and in numerous leadership positions, including a stint as co-chairman of the United Way and another serving on the Board of Directors of the Birmingham Museum of Art and president of Children’s Hospital.
He was the managing director of the Alabama Education Study Commission, a founding director of the Executive Service Corporation of Alabama, and has also served on the Board of Governors of the Indian Springs School, Highlands Day School, and Brooke Hill School.
The 1987 recipient of a distinguished alumnus award, Marks has also been a trustee and chair of the board of regents at his alma mater, the University of the South. He is also a past vice president of its alumni association. Some of the other organizations Marks has been involved in include serving as the president of the Children’s Aid Society, chairman of the Birmingham Committee for JOO, president of the Workshop for the Blind, director and vice-president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, and chair of the federal reserve Birmingham branch. He was one of five selected to meet with President Kennedy in Washington during the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham.
Marks has also been awarded two honorary degrees. He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law by his alma mater in 1989, as well as an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by The University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1990.
In the fall of 1998, Marks was selected by the Kiwanis Club and inducted along with five other men to the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame. At present, Marks serves as director emeritus for several companies, including Genuine Parts Company, BE&K Inc., UAB Research Foundation, and The Children’s Hospital.
Marks is now married to Alice Scott Marks. He and his late wife, Jeanne V. Marks, had three children, Margaret M. Porter, Randolph C. Marks, and Charles Marks.