When Jim Murphy BA ’86 needs a quick lunch while travelling in India, he reaches for a Snickers bar.
He does this partly because he has a shellfish allergy and is very careful about what he eats while overseas. Also, he considers Snickers his favourite chocolate bar.
Perhaps the most logical reason, however, is that Murphy is the global chief customer officer for Mars Global Chocolate business—home to the world-famous family of candy, including Snickers.
“I always bring some chocolate with me when I travel,” says the UWindsor grad. “I’ve found that that and a Guinness will take you far in a pinch.”
One might be surprised to learn that this very successful business executive majored in communication studies. “I could have gone the traditional business route,” he says. “But I think there’s a great deal of benefit in a liberal arts education (also see VIEW cover story, p. 20), versus focusing on any one discipline.”
Upon graduation, Murphy joined Campbell Soup in Michigan. Subsequent sales and marketing positions included stints with Clorox and Danone, whose North American sales operation he ran.
In 2008, Mars Corporation offered him the position of senior VP of sales for North America; he took on the global portfolio four years later. In broad terms, he provides strategic sales leadership and guidance to the organization, while ensuring the more-than-5,000 sales associates worldwide are focused on driving mutually profitable relationships with their customers.
Murphy works with 19 world markets and consequently spends about 75 per cent of his time on the road for the corporate giant. Murphy and his wife, Linda, live in Basking Ridge, NJ, with their two sons, James and Colin.
The company’s come a long way since 1911, when Frank C. Mars made the first Mars candies in his Tacoma, WA, kitchen. Today, the family owned business has net sales of more than $33 billion, 75,000 employees globally, and six business segments: petcare; chocolate; Wrigley; food; drinks; and symbioscience. Among its brands are Dove, Mars, M&M’s, Skittles, Twix, Uncle Ben’s, Whiskas and Pedigree.
Named for the past three years to Forbes 100 Best Companies, it was recognized for its extensive learning and development training, community engagement, and health and wellness programs. Other benefits cited by Forbes included free candy and being able to bring one’s pet to work. Over the past year, Mars has been named to similar lists in more than 20 countries.
Mars is a “flat” corporation, in which people answer their own phones, no one has a private office and everyone—including Murphy— punches a clock. This is based on the Mars family belief that no one function is more important than another.
While every company focuses on delivering results, Murphy says the challenge is delivering those results in the right way. “You can’t be a bad manager of people and survive at Mars. How you lead is as important as what you deliver.
“I had one boss tell me that feedback is a gift. What you’re doing well and poorly—both are critical aspects in improving, year after year.”
Being family owned gives the company greater flexibility and autonomy, says Murphy. “We can make decisions without worrying about the impact on Wall Street.”
For example, it has pledged to use only certified, sustainable cocoa in all of its products by 2020—the first global, chocolate company to do so.
“We make significant investments in cocoa sustainability,” says Murphy, noting that the company’s cocoa is sourced from small, family driven farms close to the equator. “Helping hundreds or thousands of farmers improve their yield through science and technology means we’re improving their profitability and giving them the ability to educate their children and better their lives.”
When it comes to education, the UWindsor alumnus is a strong proponent of continuing it after graduation. He takes two to three weeks of specialized training each year at such institutions as the London School of Economics and Harvard. “I believe you should invest in your own, personal development.”
When he addresses university students or newly minted grads, he tells them that what counts isn’t a specific degree but, “their emotional intelligence. How well they can think on their feet. And, maybe as important, maintaining a managerial bias for execution.”
This refers to a manager’s flexibility during a project’s planning stage so that its end goal is met. After all, he points out, “The final result is the only part of the strategy consumers will see.”
Murphy particularly enjoys watching a protégé’s professional growth. “The ability to spend the time with someone and see them develop and move on is very rewarding.”
As a leader with the experience and foresight to plan global sales strategies for a billion-dollar corporation, cultivate exceptional employees and pack a shellfish-free snack, Jim Murphy has raised the—chocolate—bar in a very satisfying fashion.