Veterans in Business

Corey Murphy, President, First American Insurance

Retired Marine Corps Major Stresses Teamwork, Accountability

Corey Murphy, third from left, with several First American Insurance employees during a Toys for Tots campaign the company helped launch.

Corey Murphy knew he was no longer on active duty with the Marine Corps when he walked into his first staff meeting at his family’s business — Chicopee-based First American Insurance — with the accent on when he walked in.

Indeed, that meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m., and from his years as a Marine officer, Murphy translated this to mean that he should arrive no later than 10 minutes before the hour.

“You never, ever walk into a meeting if the boss is already there; you just don’t do that,” he told BusinessWest, referring to life in the Marine Corps. “So I show up at 10 of 8, because … if you’re on time, you’re late. I’m looking at my watch, and I’m the only one sitting there. I look at my watch again at 8, and I’m still the only one sitting there, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘what’s going on here?’ I couldn’t comprehend the idea of having an 8 o’clock meeting and have it not start by 8 o’clock.”

This wasn’t a serious wake-up call, but simply a reminder that life in the business world is not exactly like life in the Corps. He would get other lessons to this effect, he went on, adding that he once asked someone to get him something by the ‘close of business.’

“Two of the biggest similarities between the military and the business world are teamwork and accountability.”

“The military interpretation of that is that is ‘when you’re done, then you can close your business day,’” he explained. “As opposed to ‘it’s 5 o’clock, and I’m going home.’ They didn’t get it done by 5 and went home, and I said, ‘wait, I said close of business.’”

So there was certainly a period of what Murphy called “transition and adjustment” from life in the military to work at the office on Front Street. But, overall, many of the tenets, if you will, of life in the service do carry over to the workplace, often creating a more focused, more efficient, more sustainable workplace, he said, listing everything from an emphasis on teamwork to the need to keep up with — and take full advantage of — ever-improving technology, to stepping up when the need arises.

But there are other, perhaps even more important takeaways (if that’s the right term) from the military, he said, citing both the company’s philosophy of continuous education and training, and its commitment to the community.

There is a heavy emphasis on the former in the military and especially the Marine Corps, he noted, adding that there is now a similar degree of importance attached to it at First American.

“This is something I have tried to instill with everyone; training is very critical,” he said, adding that an even heavier emphasis on community involvement — one existed already at this company— stems from his experiences with the Marines is such places as Okinawa, the Philippines, and Korea.

“Coming home, I realized we have resources that we can use to try to make a difference, and so we try to help where we can,” he said, mentioning, as just one example, the company’s visit to a nearby elementary school on Halloween to distribute candy to the students.

Overall, Murphy spent 20 years with the Marines, on active duty and with the reserves, and retired as a major. He said joining the Corps was something he “always wanted to do,” although he couldn’t pinpoint a reason for this. He said his uncle served in the Marines during Vietnam and took part in the prolonged siege of Khe Sanh, but doubts whether that was a motivating factor in his decision.

Murphy went into the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va. while attending Virginia Military Academy, and, after gaining his commission, was stationed in Hawaii and, later, Korea and Okinawa.

In the fall of 1998, he finished his four-year tour of duty and joined the family business. He would eventually buy it from his father in 2014.

After only six months of being home, he joined the Reserves, and would continue to serve — he did take a break at one point to earn his MBA — for another 16 years, before retiring in 2016. The last five years were spent with Marine Forces Pacific, leaving First American for stretches lasting several weeks on average to take part in exercises across that vast theater.

To be able to take part in such assignments, Murphy said he knew he needed a capable team behind him, one he knew he could trust to carry on without him — although, with technology, he was able to keep in touch.

And this is one of the many aspects of military service that has carried over to the workplace, he said, noting that teamwork and doing what’s necessary are some of the guiding philosophies at First American.

“Two of the biggest similarities between the military and the business world are teamwork and accountability,” he said, adding that they are necessary in both settings, and he has worked to instill these attributes in his team of nearly 20 employees. “If someone’s out sick or if we’re down a person or things get busy, there’s an expectation that people are going to pitch in and do whatever they need to do.”

Overall, Murphy said what he’s brought back from the Marine Corps is a philosophy of “adapt and overcome,” which is a big reason for the success the company has enjoyed.

“You adapt to the situation, and you overcome,” he explained, adding that this what happens in the Marines. “You go in with aplan, but the enemy has a plan, too. So you have to adapt to the situation you’re presented with and come up with a new plan.”

Murphy said he’s adjusted well to the business world and how it differs from the military, right down to what time people are expected at meetings and what ‘close of day’ means in this setting.

But the two worlds are actually more similar than they are different, he added, and those basic tenets of teamwork and accountability are the cornerstones on which success is built.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

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