Packers' CEO Mark Murphy: Team's management structure built for football, financial success

Richard Ryman
Green Bay Press Gazette
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GREEN BAY – Mark Murphy's decision to upend 25 years of Green Bay Packers' management structure vexed many fans, but the team's president and CEO is satisfied with the results so far.

Fans are of two minds about Murphy's decision to get more involved in football by making the general manager and head coach equal and having both report to him instead of the coach to the GM. 

One side insists Murphy spent too much time overseeing Titletown District development and Lambeau Field expansion while ignoring football. The other is adamant he should stay out of football operations and focus on business. 

Some also speculated he made the change to mollify unhappy subordinates who were not seeing eye to eye. Allaying the egos of his football staff might have been a collateral benefit to the 2018 restructuring, but it's hard to escape the suspicion that he would have done it sooner had then-general manager Ted Thompson not already been established when Murphy was named Packers president and CEO in 2008.

"I know it's different than what we've done in the past," Murphy said in a recent interview, "but from a business standpoint, most CEOs and presidents want the most-important people in the organization reporting to them, because that's going to determine the success of the organization.  

"The most important part of our organization is the football performance."

Mark Murphy, Packers President and CEO, on Jan. 21, 2019, in Lambeau Field board room.

Three of the six people reporting directly to Murphy are on the football side. Those include general manager Brian Gutekunst, head coach Matt LaFleur and director of football operations Russ Ball. On the business side are chief operating officer Ed Policy, vice president of finance and administration Paul Baniel and vice president of human resources Nicole Ledvina.

Bob Harlan separated the business and football operations after he was named president of the Packers in 1989, and gave general manager Ron Wolf control of football. That ended years of confusion over who made football decisions.

Under Harlan's system, the Packers played in three Super Bowls, winning two, and it was seen as the gold standard for how to run the team. 

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"I think the organizational structure that Bob (Harlan) employed with Ron (Wolf) was good for that time and for those people," said Tom Olson, Packers executive committee member and lead director, "and I think the structure with Ted Thompson worked very well, but you also have to remember, Mark has a pretty unique background."

That background includes two Super Bowls and a Pro Bowl while playing safety for Washington as well as:

  • A role on the players' bargaining committee during the 1982 strike season,
  • Membership on the owners' bargaining committee during the last collective bargaining negotiation 
  • Working for the players association and as a U.S. Justice Department trial attorney
  • 15 years as athletic director at Colgate and Northwestern.
  • A law degree and an MBA in finance. 

It is a resume unique among NFL team leaders.

Ultimate measure of success: Super Bowls

Left to himself, the president of the Packers is as powerful as any NFL owner, with the exception that, theoretically, he can be fired.

The Packers have never officially fired a team president in the modern era. A couple were eased out because of medical issues, but none for lack of success on the football field, even during the wilderness years of 1968-91 when the Packers eked out a .410 winning percentage.

The winning percentage under Murphy is .602, slightly better than the .595 of the Harlan years.

Murphy and Olson were quick to point out that in Green Bay, the definition of success is simple.

"The ultimate success here is winning Super Bowls," Olson said. "Everybody knows that."

For all his authority, Murphy said he is not playing general manager or coach.

"I’ll be involved and supportive, but I’m not going to make football decisions," he said. "I’m not making decisions on who we are going to draft or who’s on the 53-man roster or whether we should pass on third-and-1. It’s completely up to Matt (to complete the coaching staff)."

New Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur laughs as team president Mark Murphy, right, utters an expletive as LaFleur is introduced during a press conference in the Lambeau Field media auditorium Wednesday, January 9, 2019 in Green Bay, Wis.

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Murphy prefers that the general manager and head coach collaborate, rather than one work for the other. They have clearly defined responsibilities, but there are areas where they need to work together.  

"It would be very different if Matt was reporting directly to Brian and he was a supervisor. Now there is a partnership that I think will really benefit the organization," Murphy said. "If they can't agree on something, they come to me and what I usually say is we'll sit down and I want you to work it out. And then they work it out."

Murphy wouldn't reveal whether he'll consider resuming the previous structure.

"Once I say that, all I'll hear is, 'Well, is it time yet? Ron Wolf did it this way,' " he said. "I'm very comfortable with the structure now. I think it's working well for us. For instance, Brian didn't have to worry about firing Mike McCarthy. That was my decision. That's not easy to do."

It's not a matter of who reports to whom, but whether people are working together, Olson said.

"Certainly there is an organization chart and structure and Mark's obviously at the top of that," he said, "but in most cases he's working with people to help them do their jobs."

Much has been said about accountability, but Olson said people being responsible in their roles is the greater goal.  

"Quite frankly, if Mark had to spend a significant amount of time holding all of those folks accountable, then we've got the wrong people in those positions," Olson said. "If you are constantly having to hold people accountable, that's not a good situation. That's not the case. We have the right people in those positions."

Exec committee advises

The seven-member executive committee, which Olson leads, serves as both overseer and adviser to Murphy. It meets more often than the 43-member board of directors and gets more information on issues, especially league matters.

Members of the board of directors are successful business people in their own right and represent the organization's 360,760 shareholders as well as fans. All directors are appointed to at least one committee, giving each a chance to be involved. Board members receive no compensation, including no free tickets to games.

The board meets about five times a year, including the annual meeting in July. The executive committee meets monthly, or as often as needed.

Mark Murphy, Packers President and CEO, on Jan. 21, 2019, in Lambeau Field board room.

While some board members have said they should be included in more decision-making, the consensus is that the board's size is too unwieldy to be effective for higher-level administration. 

Executive committee members are selected by the board from within its own members,   but Murphy, as did Harlan before him, has a say in who is proposed.

Members are chosen for their skills and experience, often meeting certain needs of the committee. The executive committee includes one current and two former manufacturing CEOs, a banker and a public relations CEO, and at least three have law degrees, including Murphy.

Murphy and Daniel Ariens are the only executive committee members remaining from the Super Bowl season of 2010. Tom Olejniczak will leave the board this year, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

"We have a good line of communication between Mark as president and CEO and our executive committee," Olson said. "And, yes, while we're a fairly collegial group, nobody's afraid to speak their mind."

Harlan wrote in his memoir about going to directors for their support for certain actions, not permission.

So, too, Murphy sought the support of the executive committee when he decided to put the general manager and football coach on equal footing. Olson said everyone asked whatever questions they had, after which they backed the change. 

The executive committee also was aware of Murphy's thoughts, if not the timing, on firing McCarthy.

Murphy's job has evolved

The CEO job is more complex than ever. Like the NFL, the Packers have grown more corporate, and business acumen is essential. Keeping the Packers financially successful is as much a part of the team's 100-year story as its football accomplishments. Many times in the past, fans and businesses stepped up, especially in the early years, to bail out the Packers.

"Mark's job is much broader than (hiring a coach)," Olson said. "We don't have what we need for the football team unless we are successful financially, so all the other parts of the job — what we have here with this facility at Lambeau Field, what we have with Titletown — all those things contribute to a financially successful organization, which he is responsible for." 

Murphy's position on the NFL bargaining committee also is critical to the Packers. It gives the team influence in the league office, where Murphy, not being a true owner, lacks "skin in the game." On the other hand, that allows the Packers to be an honest broker on contentious issues.

But paramount to that, while theoretically the Packers could survive in an NFL that lacked revenue sharing or a salary cap, they'd prefer not to find out. So having an experienced voice in the room is important.

Murphy is aware of criticism that followed in the wake of his changes and back-to-back losing seasons. 

"I try not to listen to some of the comments: 'All they care about is making money,' 'Tinseltown,' 'Why are they wasting money?' " he said. "Well, first of all, when you are profitable and when we have available resources, it really helps football. There is no salary cap for coaches and there’s no (NFL-mandated) limit on football facilities."

The Green Bay Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy before the Packers take on the Atlanta Falcons during their football game on Sunday, December 9, 2018, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

During Murphy's tenure, the Packers spent more than $500 million on Lambeau Field upgrades and Titletown District development. They will spend more this year when they continue upgrading Lambeau Field concourses and replace the playing surfaces at the Don Hutson Center and the Clarke Hinkle and Ray Nitschke practice fields, as well as move into the next phase of Titletown District construction.

"From a business standpoint, even though we are a small market, we've been able to generate the revenue. Typically, we are in the top third (of the league)," Murphy said. "These are investments that are going to help the community, but it's also really helpful to football."

Ultimately, the responsibility and accountability fall on Murphy.

"In my position as president and CEO," he said, "if the organization is not doing well, that's on me."

Quoting Mark Murphy

• "For us to be successful, the most important thing is for (Brian Gutekunst) to really be able to focus on the draft, acquiring players, the 90-man roster, the 53-man roster."

•  "As you look across the league, and you can say that's a good thing or that's a bad thing, but the reality is, it's a big business and teams are structured differently. Half or about half have a situation where the head coach reports directly to an owner."

 • "Some of the (league) contacts and relationships that I've been able to make help the organization; to be able to call a John Mara (owner of the New York Giants) and some of the head coaches and GMs, or an Ozzie Newsome (former Baltimore Ravens GM) to get ideas and thoughts about who are the bright young coaches, who are the good candidates out there?"

 • "I wanted to make sure as an organization we were really fair to Mike (McCarthy). Look at the success he had. He'll be in our Hall of Fame ... but sometimes I think you have to make difficult decisions. It's difficult, especially if you get close."

 • "You really find out a lot about a person when you fire them. Mike was very, very professional. I think he was obviously disappointed, surprised, but he was very professional and handled it with class." 

Packers executive committee

  • Mark Murphy, 63, president and CEO, Green Bay Packers; 11th  year on committee.
  • Thomas Olson, 67, lead director; retired chairman of U.S. Paper Mills in De Pere and current chairman and CEO of Cornerstone Foundation of Northeastern Wisconsin; seventh year on committee.
  • Daniel Ariens, 60, secretary; president and CEO, Ariens Co.; 11 year on committee. 
  • Michael Simmer, 60, treasurer; Green Bay market president, BMO Harris Bank; second year on committee.
  • Susan Finco, 64, president, Leonard & Finco Public Relations; fourth year on committee.
  • Thomas Olejniczak, 70, attorney and principal, Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry, S.C.; sixth year on committee.
  • John Skoug, 68, chairman and CEO, Marathon Cheese Corp., first year on committee.
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