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Leading With Integrity-From West Point to Chairman of the Board

By Dan Woods (2043 words)
Posted in Leadership & Teambuilding on January 22, 2014

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Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow West Point graduate, William F. (Bill) Murdy, Chairman of Comfort Systems USA  (Houston) (NYSE: FIX), a $1.3 billion company providing heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) installation and services in the commercial/industrial/institutional sector. In addition to his extensive experience and knowledge in the corporate world, his recent venture into executive training through the creation of The Thayer Leader Development Group brings a unique balance between his corporate experience and “battle tested” character-based leadership development. I’m fascinated by the opportunity to merge the two worlds and honored to share Mr. Murdy’s insight with our members.


I am equally pleased to announce that Dr. Karen Kuhla, Executive Director of The Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point, is joining our ManagingAmericans Expert Panel so that we can continue to share invaluable leadership lessons from a select group of Retired Army Officers of the U.S. Military that she, Mr. Murdy and his business partner Rick Minicozzi have assembled.

Following is my exclusive interview with William Murdy, sharing his views on Leading with Integrity, the Role of Board Membership, how to Influence Corporate Culture & Invaluable Advice for Entrepreneurs.


Leading With Integrity-From West Point to Chairman Of the Board

Q:  You have built an incredibly successful professional career by any measure as the leader of five large entities, an entrepreneur and Chairman of several notable boards.  To what do you attribute this success and what have been the guiding values/principles throughout your career?


A:  Achieving “success” is 90% work and 10% “magic” – luck, positioning, etc.  As for guiding principles:  integrity, authenticity, respect for others and a genuine interest in their success come quickly to mind.  Further, I have always tried to be an informed, involved, servant leader…surrounding myself with talented, focused, dedicated people who like myself were willing to be accountable and who understood that things in business got done by teams not individuals.  As a senior leader I have thought of myself as an orchestrator with my head in, but my hands out.     


Q:  As you know, ManagingAmericans designs tools to assess employee engagement, communication and company culture as it directly impacts achieving objectives and overall success of the business.  As a business leader, what Corporate Culture do you strive to achieve for your organizations and teams?  


A:  I have tried to create cultures that rest firmly on integrity and accountability as well as fairness. Cultures that value openness and that don’t punish the people who point out the negatives or those things that need to be improved.  That creates trust among team members. 


Q:  What methods do you use to create that culture or transform an existing culture into something more effective and aligned with your business goals?  


A:  By personally setting the right example and tone and by making sure everyone understands the vision, values, mission and objectives of the enterprise as well as the strategy.  By communicating the forgoing early and often.  By acting quickly to remedy situations where the foregoing haven’t been observed or taken hold.   


Q:  Many of our readers are business leaders interacting with their own board of directors or interested in advancing to board level positions. In your opinion, what is the role of a Board of Directors and how should that be used to effectively grow a business?


A:  An early mentor of mine used to say that the only role of a good Board was to hire the right CEO.  While that is a central function of the Board, it’s clearly too narrow.  I am on three public Boards currently and all too often we get bogged down in matters of compliance…audit, governance and compensation.  That needs to be streamlined so that Boards can be more involved in the formulation of corporate strategy.  Further, Boards need constantly remind management of its obligation to the business of business…to produce a good or service efficiently that fills a market need….not just to grow or acquire.  Bigger is not necessarily better, better is better.     


Q:  How do you think serving on various boards impacted your career and what advice/insights would you give Executives/Senior Managers about preparing to be on a Board of Directors for the first time?


A:  I think the breadth of exposure and knowledge one gains by serving on other Boards has been invaluable to me.  It brings new perspective and if one is paying attention (learning is a lifetime activity), one can lever the ideas and insights of Board members from other entities for one’s own entity.


Q:  One of the things we value most is learning from the experience of successful individuals like yourself. Drawing from your professional experience, what three recommendations would you provide to Senior Managers who desire taking the next step of their career into an executive level role?



1) Be authentic…don’t fake it.  Find out who you are, be that person in what you do.

2) Be a communicator, especially speaking.  Be able to articulate clearly what the vision, values, mission, and objectives are.

3) Recognize that things get done by teams, but that teams need captains and play callers.  Don’t be afraid to jump into a situation that needs work and leadership.


Q:  What three recommendations would you give to entrepreneurs building their business from the ground up?


A:  The cute answer is: Focus, Focus, Focus.  I think some entrepreneurs trust too much in themselves and don’t listen to others enough. So (1) focus, (2) trust in the thoughts of other and the last: don’t run out of cash! 


Q:  You have worked with a lot of different leaders in your career. What do you find most Executives and Leaders “do not understand” or “do not focus enough on”?  What piece of advice would you give them on this topic?


A:  I think many may not focus enough on building trust with their team.  Some trust can be built by demonstrating business acumen, but more comes from demonstrating integrity and setting the right tone all the time.  Leaders must also lead all the time.  It’s a 24 hour job. 


Q:  Your most recent Entrepreneurial effort is the creation of the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point. Tell us about your recent efforts with the Thayer Leader Development Group and why creating it was important to you.


A:  First of all I wasn’t the only party in this effort.  From the outset my business partner Rick Minicozzi (a true entrepreneur!) and Dr Karen Kuhla and I collaborated on this. Neither Rick nor I could have brought the Thayer Leadership Development Group to life without Karen.  Further, we are still a “work in progress” in a sense.  We will never stop trying to improve and innovate.


Q:  What need in leadership and ethics training do you think the Thayer Leader Development Group fills that isn’t currently being met by other leadership training programs? What can individuals/organizations expect when they participate? 


A:  I am not sure that there aren’t other high quality leadership programs working to provide some of what we seek to provide.  However, we are bringing the time and “battle tested” tenets of character based leadership development that have been a part of West Point forever.  Our “training” is part academic, part experiential, part working with proven leaders in a relatively small group and part mentoring.  With West Point as a “background”, the experience is unique and powerful.    


Q:  How have your own experiences at West Point helped to shape you as an individual and your career? 


A:  Probably immeasurably. West Point is a leadership laboratory, as well as first-class academic institution.  Its foundation rests on honor and integrity and duty to others than self.  It encourages a lifetime of learning.  It is challenging academically and physically and once accomplished provides one confidence, hopefully with humility.         


Bill Murdy Bio:

William F. (Bill) Murdy is Chairman of Comfort Systems USA  (Houston) (NYSE: FIX), a $1.3 billion company providing heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) installation and services in the commercial/industrial/institutional sector countrywide. Comfort Systems operates from over 75 locations employing more than 7,000 people.


Until December 31, 2011, he was both Chairman and CEO of Comfort having joined the company in 2000. Before joining Comfort he was President and Chief Executive Officer of Club Quarters, (New York City) a privately owned, rapidly growing chain of membership hotels catering to corporate travelers to major cities in the U.S. and Europe.  Prior to Club Quarters he was Chairman, President, CEO and Co-Founder of LandCare USA, Inc. (Houston) (NYSE: GRW).  LandCare grew to be the country’s largest commercial landscape and tree services company ($500 MM revenues) before merging with ServiceMaster (NYSE:SVM) in 1999.  Before LandCare, Mr. Murdy was President and Chief Executive Officer for 8 years of General Investment and Development (Boston), a large, privately held, diversified real estate investment, development and operating company, and prior to that, from 1981 to 1989, Managing General Partner of the Morgan Stanley Venture Capital Fund and President of its associated management company (New York City).  From 1974 to 1981 he served in a number of positions including chief operating officer of Pacific Resources (Honolulu) (NYSE: PRI), a rapidly growing $1 billion company in the oil refining and gas utility sector.


He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School (1970) and West Point (1964).  He served in the United States Army from 1964 to 1974, including one year in  the Dominican Republic (82nd Airborne) and two years in Viet Nam (Corps of Engineers/173rd Airborne Brigade) and three years teaching (Economics) at West Point.  He left the active Army as a Major and served in the US Army Reserve.  Currently, he serves on the Board of Directors, Audit Committee and is Chair of the Compensation Committee of UIL Holdings (NYSE: UIL); the Board of Directors, Governance Committee and is Chair of the Compensation Committee of Kaiser Aluminum (NASDAQ: KALU); the Board of Directors of Climatec, (Phoenix) and Advisory Boards of CapStreet Partners (Houston) and Chicago Growth Partners (Chicago).  He is the co- founder and former Chairman of Warrior Gateway (connecting Veterans with services), Vice Chairman and member of the National Board and Executive Committee of Business Executives for National Security, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Corporate Council and the Board of Trustees (Emeritus) of the West Point Association of Graduates.  He is married with two grown children (NYC) and resides with his wife of 48 years, Mary Benbow Murdy, in New Canaan, Connecticut.



{#/pub/images/danphoto.jpg}Written by Dan Woods, VP & COO ManagingAmericans.com

A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Dan has a strong background in business development, operations, project management and change management.  After serving five years in the Army Corps of Engineers, including worldwide assignments, he left the military and entered into the private sector.  With 10+ years in the Renewable Energy sector working for both startups and turnarounds for American, European and Asian conglomerates, he held positions as Director of Business Development and General Manager, as well as led multimillion-dollar projects as Project Director. Dan holds a B.S. in Economics, a Masters in Business Administration, and is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP).


Do you have a question for Dan?  Please visit our Business Development Community, he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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