Mark Murphy shares ‘Murph’s Pearls of Wisdom’ with UW-Green Bay Graduates
Mark Murphy, President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers is right: college graduation is one of the clearest beginnings you will ever have in your life. Mark shared that sentiment and his father’s advice, aptly named “Murph’s Pearls of Wisdom” with UW-Green Bay’s Class of 2022 during their afternoon commencement ceremony on Saturday, December 17 at The Weidner.
Read Mark’s full commencement address below.
“Thank you, Chancellor Alexander and the Council of Trustees, for inviting me to speak today. To the other award recipients, I am awed and humbled by your accomplishments, and am honored to share the stage with you. To the faculty and staff of UWGB, and the friends and family of the graduates, congratulations. You have all contributed immensely in a variety of ways to the lives and growth of these students.
Now, to the graduates: Congratulations. You did it. You’ve graduated from a great university. It’s an exciting time, but also a time of uncertainty. It is a true milestone and one of the clearest beginnings you will ever have in your life.
Although most of you only know me for my work with the Packers, I have a long history in higher education. I was a collegiate athletic director for 17 years – 12 at Colgate University, my alma mater, and 5 at Northwestern University. Although I love my work with the Packers, I missed my involvement in the educational process, and was excited and honored when Chancellor Guy Miller asked me to serve on the UWGB Council of Trustees 13 years ago. I’ve truly enjoyed serving on the Council, and, after working at 2 private universities, have been pleased to see the impact that a public school like UWGB has on the local and state communities. I’ve been especially impressed with the work Chancellor Alexander has done in enhancing the reputation of the University, while increasing the impact UWGB has on the community. Given my background, I’ve also enjoyed working with UWGB’s athletic directors – Charles Guthrie and Josh Moon. Charles and I have a long history together – he was an intern at Colgate when I was the AD there in the late 1990s. He is now the AD at Akron University and a rising star within intercollegiate athletics. I am a strong believer in the benefits and lifelong lessons that students learn from participation in athletics.
In addition to my education and experience in athletics, my father also had a huge impact on my career and my life. My father, Hugh, or Murph, was a true character, and had a zest for life. He had a very hard life as a child in Rochester, NY. and at seventeen, he left high school to join the Army and served during WWII. He earned a Purple Heart and came back to obtain his high school and college degrees. He had a long career in labor relations. My favorite memories of my father are walking through the steel plant in Buffalo with him. Every person in the plant seemed to know him.
A great regret in my life is that Murph never made it to Lambeau Field. In January of 2008, when I started with the Packers, we had two home playoff games, and I talked with my father about coming up for one of the games. We eventually decided that it was too hard to work out all the details and determined that he could come up for a game in the fall of 2008. Yet, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer in March and died in July. I would encourage you today to not let details get in the way, and to take advantage of your opportunities to spend special time with your family and friends.
To honor Murph and his life, I am going to share with you today some of what Murph called his “pearls of wisdom.” He dispensed these pearls to me over many years. As a teenager I would roll my eyes when Murph would share one of these pearls. It always seemed sort of funny to me, because he was about the last guy that you would ever associate with pearls, and he never thought he was particularly wise, although he was. As I grew older, I realized that I’d actually been paying some attention to him and that those pearls of wisdom helped guide me through life.
His first pearl was:
Don’t burn bridges: Build them.
I’ve found that a key in life is how you treat people. Treating people well is the right thing to do and it’s actually also really good for your career and life.
Everything’s connected. In the 1990s, I was actively involved in collective bargaining with the NFL, as a player rep for the Washington Redskins and later as a vice president of the NFL Players Association. It was a difficult, emotional time with great labor unrest, including two strikes. I was on the bargaining committee for the players. The Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke, called me a communist. Paul Tagliabue was a young attorney for the NFL at the time. He was also a Redskins season ticket holder. Although we were on opposite sides of the table, we worked hard at understanding each other’s viewpoint and developed a friendship. Years later, when he became Commissioner of the NFL, he asked me to serve on two NFL committees. I’m certain that I wouldn’t be in my position today without Paul’s support over the years. So, by not burning bridges but building them, twenty years after I left the NFLPA, I came full circle and served on the NFL owners’ bargaining committee.
Pearl No. 2: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Of course, that means the obvious. Don’t get furious when you get a speeding ticket, and don’t be annoyed if your phone has no reception.
But besides the obvious small stuff, I’ve learned that “don’t sweat the small stuff” is really about keeping perspective – often times in the face of things that feel very big.
In 2008, the Packers organization was faced with a very difficult situation when our star quarterback, Brett Favre, one of the best quarterbacks ever, retired and then changed his mind. We had made a commitment to his backup and eventually decided to trade Favre.
I have a letter I received to give you a sense of what it was like then. This letter came from a shareholder, James from Milwaukee. He writes, “You, sir, are a complete and total idiot. Only an idiot would trade Brett Favre, the greatest quarterback in the history of the Packers, and a MVP finalist last year. I will never again cheer for the Packers because of you”.
It felt like a huge deal to me. There was nonstop national media attention and thousands of letters like that from fans. And though it was very difficult, I tried to keep my perspective. I kept thinking to myself: we let players go all the time. Favre is thirty-nine years old. Five years from now he’ll be gone one way or the other, so just get through this and don’t let the media make it a bigger issue than it really is.
So when you are faced with a difficult decision, try to break it down to the basics and picture yourself a few years into the future. And if you ever have to cut a legendary quarterback, it really helped to have Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings.
Murph’s third pearl was:
The harder you work, the luckier you get.
This one is one you’ve heard a lot, but it’s true. I believe you have to be willing to stay humble and work on any task, no matter how small, that will help achieve your goals. The Green Bay Packers employees and I work very hard so the average Packers fan can enjoy his or her Sunday afternoons watching our team.
When people think of my position as President and CEO, it seems glamorous, working with high profile coaches, players, and owners. This past December, we held a stock sale, and added 150,000 new shareholders. This means that I now have over 530,000 bosses.
In January, I received a letter from Patrick from California, one of these new bosses, who starts out his letter by referring to himself as a new owner. He continues…“I’ve been to Lambeau Field three times in the last four years. In
December of this year, I did have some issues come up that I wasn’t very happy with and thought that I would let you know. The concession stand outside of Section 123 ran out of bratwurst in the 3rd quarter. How can they be out of brats at a Green Bay Packers game in Wisconsin?” He then concluded with true Wisconsin-bred politeness, “and in closing, I look forward to working with you”.
So after we finished laughing, we worked really hard to make sure that we never ran out of brats again.
In closing, I hope that Big Murph’s pearls are helpful to you. If you build bridges, keep your perspective, and work hard, you will have a great journey and will be amazed what you will be able to do in your career and life. And you will be ready for the twists and turns you encounter along the way.
Congratulations again, and best of luck to you all.”