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Veterans in Business

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]

Veterans in Business

Her Afghanistan Tour Brought Many Lessons for Life, Business

Dorothy Ostrowski is seen here during her tour of duty in Afghanistan with Gen. Karl Eikenberry (center) and fellow military police officers (from left) Ryan Stone, Dominic Cirillo, and Jeffrey Botcher.

Dorothy Ostrowski was only 17 when she joined the Army National Guard.

She needed her parents’ consent to do so at that age, and she got it, because they knew — and, more importantly, she knew — that this was something she needed at that critical junction in her life.

“I didn’t have probably the best circle of friends at that time,” she told BusinessWest, turning back the clock more than 23 years. “I was looking to get some direction in my life.”

To say she found some through her seven years in a military police company, serving in locations ranging from Italy to Panama to Afganistan, where she became a chase driver for Gen. Karl Eikenberry, would be a huge understatement.

Indeed, she said, during that time of service, she gained invaluable lessons in teamwork, trusting those you’re working beside, being ready for essentially anything, taking nothing for granted, and taking good care of team members.

And they have served her well since, in positions ranging from emergency-room nurse to president of the company that she and her husband, Mike, purchased at the start of this year, West Springfield-based Adams & Ruxton Construction.

“There are many ways in which what you learn in the military impacts what you do in life and in business,” she noted. “There’s the teamwork dynamic, the attention to detail, and the mindset of taking care of the troops — your troops eat first. It’s about taking care of the people around you, because they’re the ones who are going to pull you through things. And that directly impacts where I am now.”

“There would be times when you were out on convoys and there would be explosions, or you’d be out on a mission … and you’re not really thinking that you might not come back at the end of the day.”

Afghanistan was essentially the final stop in a lengthy stint with the National Guard that, as noted, took Ostrowski to several other countries and working situations. She told BusinessWest that her first ambition was to be a police officer. But, as she said, she needed to bring direction to her life, and so, while still enrolled at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, she made the decision to join the Guard with the stated goal of becoming a military police officer. Boot camp was the summer after her junior year.

Looking back on her time in Afghanistan, Ostrowski said it wasn’t until that tour of duty was over and she was back in this country that she could really put those experiences into their proper perspective.

“When you’re there, you’re just doing your job,” she told BusinessWest. “There would be times when you were out on convoys and there would be explosions, or you’d be out on a mission … and you’re not really thinking that you might not come back at the end of the day.”

Her Guard unit was there to be part of the efforts to train the Afghan national army, she explained, adding that her specific role with the Military Police was to protect Gen. Eikenberry, an assignment that often put her at the wheel of the chase car that rode close behind his Chevy Suburban.

“We would ensure that no one tried to drive into him or drive him off the road,” she noted. “Our mission for those several months was to get him where he needed to go safely, whether that meant chase-driving him or accompanying him in Blackhawks or Chinooks to different villages in Afghanistan.”

When that tour of duty ended, Ostrowski enrolled at Holyoke Community College, with the goal of joining the law-enforcement field, but instead took a different career path — into healthcare. She eventually became an emergency-room nurse after gaining her degree at Springfield Technical Community College, and later, while seeking work that would allow her to spend her time with her family, joined Sound Physicians, a medical process-improvement company. Along the way, she earned a dual master’s degree in nursing and business administration at Elms College to better position herself for new opportunities and, ultimately, a leadership position.

Dorothy Ostrowski says she won’t hesitate to do anything she asks her team members to do.

She created one for herself by acquiring Adams & Ruxton, a move she categorized as part of a lifelong pattern of continually seeking out new challenges and raising the bar when it comes it comes to her career ambitions — something else she took home from her time in the military.

Today, she leads a team of 25 people and boasts a broad job description, everything from meeting with clients to coordinating the subcontractors to handling the financials. And she brings her experience in the military to the workplace seemingly every day, especially those lessons in teamwork and working as a unit to achieve a mission, whatever it may be.

To get her points across, she referenced a cartoon a friend sent her that effectively illustrates — literally and figuratively — the difference between a manager and a true leader.

“In one panel, there’s a picture of a boss sitting up on a rock with all his employees pulling him,” she recalled. “And then, in the other, there’s a picture of a leader, the one at the front of that rope helping all his people pull that big rock; that’s the kind of leader I am, and I think a lot of it comes from my time with the Guard.

“It’s about not being afraid to do anything that you ask the people you’re surrounded by to do,” she went on. “But I think it’s also about recognizing the qualities of the people around you and being humble enough to say, ‘hey, I don’t know how to do this,’ and allowing those that know how to do it to teach you to do it.”

“In the military, you rely on each other,” she said in conclusion, adding that this mindset has helped enable her to be a driving force in business, long after she was a driving force in Afghanistan.

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

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