Oral Histories

Jim Murphy

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

Jim Murphy Biography

James Murphy is the chairman and CEO of Murphy & Co.

Murphy was the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Accenture and current Chairman and CEO of Murphy and Company, a management consulting firm specializing in corporate marketing and communications.  Mr. Murphy successfully let the effort to rebrand and reposition Accenture in 2000 - 2001 which won widespread recognition for the company.

Mr. Murphy also chairs the PR Coalition, which focuses on issues of interest to all communications professionals and has been recognized for his expertise in government and investor relations, editorial and media activities, corporate advertising, crisis communications, marketing communications and philanthropy, plus many others professional skills.


Interviewer: Let’s talk just a minute about ethical leadership and get into Accenture and everything that happened there. It’s a very complicated chain of events for me as an outsider just reading what I was able to read what happened. It started in ’89 which was the year of the establishment of Anderson Consulting in the Arthur Anderson firm.

Murphy: No that’s an erroneous statement. Okay we’ll start with that because that’s where, that’s a core issue right there that you just said. In 1989 an organization was formed called Anderson Worldwide.

Interviewer: Okay.

Murphy: And under Anderson Worldwide was put Arthur Anderson Accounting and Anderson Consulting. There were two separate business entities entirely. Anderson Consulting per se was never part of Arthur Anderson. It was a sister company. Now it came out of Arthur Anderson as known as the Administrative Services Division of Arthur Anderson. But when they formed Anderson Worldwide two separate companies were formed and the ownership of those two companies were divided between the partners, between each. And that was a confusing point throughout the entire set of exercises and the arbitrator at the end of the day, you know clarified that very sharply that their ownership was split in ’89, there was never any connection after that time. So I it’s a long story. I was fortunate to be there in the sense that it was a phenomenal public relations and marketing challenge. But it came out of the marketplace driving people’s actions in a way that it was unfortunate because what happened was the consulting business was much more robust and profitable than the accounting business at the time. And the agreement had to do between the two companies, was sharing earnings each year and Anderson Consulting was paying Arthur Anderson $100 million a year because of its greater success. Well Arthur Anderson, in violation as the arbitrator found later on of the contract between the companies, was reinvesting that money back into the consulting business. And the basic agreement in ’89 was consulting business was for Anderson Consulting and auditing and tax was for Arthur Anderson and there was to be in violation of that.  And there was years of arguments about that of debate and are you violating the contract or whatever and finally in desperation, the management of Anderson Consulting filed an arbitration against Arthur Anderson and Anderson Worldwide. That was the only vehicle they had. They, the bylaws wouldn’t allow litigation, only arbitration. And the arbitrator two and a half years later ruled totally in favor of Anderson Consulting, said that both Anderson Worldwide and Arthur Anderson had violated the contract and dissolved the contract. And so there is no longer any connection between the two. Now interesting enough, in the contract was the licensing agreement for the use of the word Anderson. That was owned by the Illinois partnership of Arthur Anderson historically and the contract which was voided at Anderson Consulting’s plea essentially eliminated Anderson’s ability to use the word. So we had 144 days to find a new name for Anderson Consulting, and working in 100 countries and trying to find a new name, it was almost impossible. We had 5,000 candidate names and ten cleared all trademark clearances etc. out of 5000. Just ten. We could have used only ten. and we picked Accenture. It was an idea of one of our own consultants, and actually his English was second language for the person, it’s Scandinavian that said Accent of the future. Put them together. It was that simple. That’s where it comes from.

Interviewer: Can you maybe add to the problems you had with all the rebranding and the launching of the new…..

Murphy: Well, it was an unbelievable task and it’s a case study among case studies. I mean there’s nothing really ever like it in business-to-business in particular, because you couldn’t use the word after January 1, 2001. You just couldn’t use it. It isn’t like you could drag it out or put up with some guy in Germany saying well I’m not going to change until March or I don’t like the new name and I’m not going to do it. None of that was permitted. And that in one sense was a plus because no one was able to drag their feet. So we marshaled our self in a way that was remarkable in retrospect. In one sense, the marketing communications function, which I led, ran the company for a couple months. Because everything had to be turned to make this change and we were very successful at it. And it took us 75 days to get the name, then 75 days to implement it. But think about it, we had 85,000 people, just the business cards for everybody. Okay, every sign. Every database. We had 15,000 databases that had to be changed. Every paycheck. I mean you just can’t, hundred of thousands of changes. And what we did is we put together a co-, the project was lead by co-leaders. One was one of the people in marketing who worked for me and the other person came out of our private management team who worked for clients who do big technology jobs. And so this is an individual who understood how to take every piece of a project and track it. So we had the partnership of the creative people in the marketing guise with this projected management skill set which worked very well so it was phenomenal success, and the company just relishes it, it was a phenomenal thing that we did.

Interviewer: It was quite an accomplishment….

Murphy: Right, and within 12 months the Accenture name was the 51st best brand by Business Week, best known brand in a year.

Interviewer: I remember the ads.

Murphy: One of the things that we did, a couple side lines. We, we didn’t want to promote the Anderson Consulting name but we wanted our advertising to continue so we used a devise where we crossed out the Anderson Consulting name and put in 0101 which coincidentally the date of this change and 01 in computer’s talk is a crucial set of digits. So that’s our business, so it just serendipitously was beautifully done. It worked out great. Another thing that happened is we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw away or burn all the paraphernalia we use for golf events and give away to clients and employees and T-shirts and everything. So we gave them to charitable organizations. And I got a call one day from an attorney at Arthur Anderson very upset at me because he had seen some a street person wearing one of the Anderson Consulting T-shirts walking in Chicago, because the YMCA or someone gave these things away and he thought we were degrading the Anderson name because they wanted to use it going forward. So that was we just couldn’t’ bring ourselves to burn them. So they are still floating around somewhere, thousands of them.

Interviewer: Now something, in some of the articles in the recent things that I’ve read about your experiences, you have really gotten into public diplomacy and it has gotten to be a passion for you. Now you wrote, and I don’t remember where I read this, that you believed that it was a huge mistake when the US government dissolved the USIA the United State Information Agency…. and that happened in 1999.

Murphy: Right.

Interviewer: And then it spread its responsibilities around to other entities. And then it slashed the budget of those entities. Now, Arthur Page worked with three presidents in times of rapid change in the world and advised them how to communicate with those various constituencies. So can you talk a little bit about how the Page Principles are applicable to the realm of public diplomacy?

Murphy: Well let’s go down the principles. Public relations should be, you should conduct it as if your the life of your business was dependent upon it.  I used to conduct public relations for America like America’s life is dependent upon it. You have to deal with the truth. You have to have fun while you’re doing it. They all apply. With USIA it was like a large corporation eliminated the PR department and cut the budget. I mean, and who’s going to tell you a story? Every little division is going to tell no it isn’t going to work that way. And that’s what happened to the US government. The US government outside of the big defense department, state department and the administrative political, they are almost all politically governed activities. There’s no one agency that is there, sitting there telling the American story, the US story, like it used to.  And USIA and Voice of America and all those tools were very instrumental in ending the Cold War. And we have an even greater challenge today in the war of ideas with the rest of the world, the Islamic world in particular, where there’s ideas absolutely shooting at us that we don’t have an adequate response or defense that is unified and coherent. And I think that’s a big mistake, and I don’t understand why our administrations don’t get it.  It’s so simple at one level. I assume it was all eliminated because of some set of politics that wanted to get rid of USIA. But the State Department and Karen Hughes is well meaning and they are doing interesting things, but it’s still very splintered and not cohesive enough and not enough of a partnership yet with the private sector and that’s what we’re trying to do with our, with the cooperative thing we did with the State Department, is call attention to all the terrific things that the private sector is doing around the world. And put a spotlight on it and encourage more of it. And the report that we published had 11 steps, practical steps, companies could take to either emphasize what they are doing already or to step up and do some new things that could help in this cause of building the reputation, rebuilding the reputation of America around the world.

Interviewer: Okay well, that said, the second summit that you had was on diversity in the industry.

Murphy: Right.

Interviewer: So it’s been a few years now. Have you seen some…?

Murphy: Well we are going to launch, we’re going to launch the second wave of that this fall. And we’re going to see what’s happened.

Interviewer: What is that second wave?

Murphy: The second wave; that was a benchmark study. It was the diversity, I’m sorry, the research study we did as part of the summit, we talked to the heads of agencies, and the heads of large corporate departments and their attitudes and input about what’s happening with diversity in the profession. And it was a benchmark and it had X issues in it and things coming out of it. Now we’re going to do the second wave this fall to see what progress is going to be made. So we’ll see what happens right. That’s right.

Interviewer: Because it is a real concern.

Murphy: Absolutely!  One of the concerns is trying to find enough candidates. I mean the minority candidate today in public relations or marketing is in high demand. I mean, I know at Accenture we put on, I mean our recruiting numbers were not good in this space. And I go to the recruiting organizations and say what’s happening. Then we can’t find the candidates. We can’t find any candidates.  And when we do find them, there are ten other companies bidding for them and they are bidding their salaries up higher than we want to pay etc. etc. So I say, so you’re probably not doing this right. They are going to Northwestern looking for minority candidates like they go to Northwestern the last 25 years. Well you’re not going to find many more minority candidates there. Let’s go to places where they are. And so whether it’s Asian, whether it’s African American, whether it’s even American Indian / Native Americans we’re recruiting, where they are in Accenture now and we’ve I think we’ve, the last two years I think 30 percent of our intake were minorities, were getting into marketing functions. But it takes a special effort. You just can’t, you just can’t do what you’ve done in the past, because that’s the old expression, you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you get the same results.

Interviewer: Okay, well we’re looking at wrapping things up right now. I just want to ask you, in your life or come back in your career maybe not even in your career, which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?

Murphy: Well it’d be hard not to nod to the Accenture launch because we created a new company and it’s a phenomenal study. But I was involved for many years particularly at Burson and in all the companies, I managed a lot of crises and whether it was the Perrier recall, you remember that years ago or whether it was the Solomon Brothers bond crisis or whether it was some fire chief burning tub showers for Owens Corning by pouring kerosene on it and lighting the kerosene to show they were flammable. I mean these were things, which were very exciting in the moment, because you got to act within seconds of things. You go on an airplane. You have no time to think about it. And you have to go on your instincts. And they are some of the most exciting times I think in my public relations career. But, and the life of an organization can rest on your decisions. Now, we happen to work with Warren Buffet, but at the Solomon Brothers thing but we were sort of just executing because he’s brilliant, but a number of the crises we worked, we were actually making decisions that were business decisions. And you can sink or swim with the business by what you do in the public relations field. So that’s very exciting. I think the most important, the most exciting thing I’ve ever done though was having my son join me in my business. And Murphy & Company is run by my son and myself and that’s been so gratifying, I can’t describe it. So.

Interviewer: It must be wonderful to work with your son.

Murphy: It is, it is. I don’t know how he puts up with me but it’s great. That’s right. That’s exactly right so.