Martin Selig was born to a Jewish family in Germany, the son of Manfred Selig (1902-1992), who was born in Buchen, Germany, the son of a horse-trader. In 1939 Manfred was warned by a neighbour "that the Nazis had labeled him an undesirable". He, his wife, and two children left quickly. The next day the Nazis confiscated his home and Business. The family hid in warehouses in Frankfurt, before heading eastwards via Poland, Russia, Korea and Japan. They boarded a steamer to San Francisco, but chose Seattle "on a whim" because the boat stopped there and the sun was shining.
Selig worked for his Father in his children's clothing store before building his first shopping centre in 1962.
Since then, he has built mostly tall buildings in Seattle, including two blocks on Fifth Avenue known as Fifth & Jackson and Fifth & Yesler, and by the 1980s owned nearly one-third of Seattle's office space, with Forbes estimating his 1987 net worth at US$ 270 million. He built the Columbia Center in 1985, still the city's tallest building, and sold it in 1989 for $354 million.
In October 2015, he owned 4 million square feet of office space in Seattle, and his estimated net worth was $1.1 billion.