Inside 1265: Packers reflect Mark Murphy
Packers don't have one owner, but like every NFL team, they reflect the personality of their leader.
Editor's note: This is a first in a series of profiles during the next several weeks about the leadership of the Green Bay Packers and how it runs at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers do not have a single, billionaire owner, but like every NFL team, the franchise has tended to reflect the personality of its leader.
Whether it was Dominic Olejniczak's unambiguous love of the team, the stewardship of Judge Robert Parins or the folksy but iron hand of Bob Harlan, Packers presidents have stamped their mark on the franchise.
It's no different into the ninth year of Mark Murphy's tenure.
One thing they all had in common was an ability to see over the horizon. Olejniczak hired Vince Lombardi and was on the executive committee that engineered the move from East High School to the future Lambeau Field. Parins built the first private boxes at Lambeau and created the Packers Foundation. Harlan hired Ron Wolf and led the 2003 renovation of the stadium, a singular milestone in the history of the franchise.
Murphy might top them all.
In addition to the expansion and renovation of Lambeau Field and the development of the Titletown District — one of the biggest construction projects in the state — Murphy directed an internal reorganization of the Packers that moved the organization from quaint but effective to corporate but community-minded.
"For somebody that's not from Green Bay, he gets it as far as the relationship between the fans and the team and how important the team is to Green Bay and Northeastern Wisconsin," Packers lead director Thomas Olson said. "He's all around town. I think he enjoys it, quite frankly."
Had Harlan successor John Jones not been sidelined by medical issues only one year into his tenure, Murphy would not have become the Packers' 10th president. In retrospect, though, it's hard to imagine a candidate with better credentials for the time and place.
At both Colgate and Northwestern, Murphy was recognized for the success of his programs and for building infrastructure. He won a Super Bowl ring as a player, led the NFL in interceptions one year and saw his career end because, he says, he was a players union representative. He is an attorney who worked for both the players union and the U.S. Justice Department, and also was a member of several NFL committees even before joining the Packers.
Since joining the team, he added another Super Bowl ring to his collection, added 8,000 seats to Lambeau Field, expanded the cash-generating Packers Pro Shop and rearranged the Atrium. He continues to be heavily involved in league governance.
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It didn't seem like it because of his folksy style, but Harlan was more autocratic than Murphy is portrayed. Harlan told the Press-Gazette in 2010 that, on big issues, "the thing I tried to do was have all the answers ahead of time. Then I called a board meeting and said, 'I'm not asking for your approval. I'm asking for your support.' "
Packers insiders describe Murphy as a consensus-builder.
"The one thing that really struck me about him ... he genuinely asks your opinion," said Ashwaubenon Village President Michael Aubinger, who has worked extensively with the Packers on the Titletown District.
Murphy will work to build a consensus, but in the end, the decision is his, Olson said. "Ultimately, somebody's got to stand up on that rock and say, 'Here's what we are going to do.' "
Staff members say there's no doubt when a decision is made.
"By the time he's decided what he wants, he's really done a lot of work," said Ed Policy, vice president and general counsel. "He's taken a lot of people's opinions into account, so he gets what he wants, yes, but what's baked into what he wants is … taking a lot of other credible and qualified opinions into account."
Since joining the Packers in December 2007, Murphy has built a staff that suits his management style and the needs of an NFL franchise, market size notwithstanding. (You'll read more about the staff in coming days.)
Murphy meets weekly with senior staff — vice presidents, mostly — and monthly with department heads. The executive committee of the board of directors meets monthly, and the entire 43-member board meets quarterly. The organization also holds "all-hands" meetings and, staff members say, Murphy does a lot of management by walking around and talking to people.
"You hire good people and then you let them do their job," Murphy said. "When I'm busy on league matters and traveling, I've got to have trust in the people that are here."
Murphy travels a lot. He is extensively involved in NFL committees, which all hands agree is good for the Packers.
"I love it," Murphy said of league work. "It's good for the organization."
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In his eight-plus years as president and CEO of the Packers, Murphy has not had to address the always-touchy issue of replacing his general manager or coach. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy were on board when Murphy arrived.
Brett Favre's retirement three months after Murphy's hiring, followed by Favre's un-retirement four months later and the controversy surrounding his replacement by Aaron Rodgers, proved beneficial to that relationship.
"I think it was really good in the sense that, early on in my tenure, I had to work very closely with both Ted and Mike," Murphy said. "We developed a trust and a positive relationship very early on."
Murphy maintains the Packers' philosophy of separating the football and business sides of the organization. Thompson reports to Murphy and the executive committee, but he makes the football decisions.
"Going back to when I was an athletic director, working with the head football coach and the head coaches of other sports, you understand you can't micromanage ... because once you do, it's completely changed," Murphy said. "You look at the model. When the Packers have been successful, it's been strong leadership in football."
Given their druthers, the Packers confine the drama to the football field.
"Mark is very calming in terms of addressing things, and talking through things and making decisions that end up being the right ones," said Aaron Popkey, director of public affairs and the team's chief spokesman. "There is an approach to it that is not dramatic."
Because of Green Bay's public ownership, there is a larger public relations aspect to Murphy's job than for other NFL leaders. He has to move easily from the dog-eat-dog world of NFL meeting rooms to planting trees in De Pere's Voyageur Park and meeting small-business owners at the Packers' Mentor-Protege Program graduations.
The president of the Packers has diverse, sometimes competing constituencies, Policy said.
"You really have to appreciate where you are and what this community means, but you also have to understand that we are part of the National Football League and there are certain pressures that go along with that," Policy said. "One of Mark's most important jobs is to really represent the club at the league level."
That said, Murphy understands and makes sure his new hires understand that Green Bay is different than everywhere else.
When Policy came to Green Bay for his job interview, before Murphy asked his first question, he showed him a video on Packers culture and the community.
"Until you actually live it, until you're here and you have people like Mark who are going to insist that you recognize it, you don't get the magnitude," Policy said.
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Like Ashwaubenon's Aubinger, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt finds himself often working with the Packers on a variety of projects, such as the free G-Line bus service between Lambeau Field and downtown.
"We deal with Murphy a lot," Schmitt said. "He's a real guy. You can tell he's a dad when he asks about your kids. There are other business leaders, but they aren't personally interested in you. He remembers that stuff. That is very cool. He's interested in other things going on in the city beside the Green Bay Packers."
Schmitt doesn't always get what he wants from the Packers, but he said it's like dealing with other big companies, such as Schreiber Foods, Humana or Georgia-Pacific.
"Their leadership is very responsive," he said. "We understand we've got business things to do, but at the end of the day, it's one of the fun relationships we have."
The Packers will do things in the best interest of the community, even when there is no immediate benefit to them, Aubinger said.
"They could have a very flippant attitude toward local government," he said. "Does that mean we always agree? We do not. We civilly disagree and work out a solution to the problem. I see them more as problem solvers than problem makers."
For example, Aubinger suggested the Packers buy five more houses near the Titletown District than they needed because it would be better for neighbors, who would be unduly affected by the project. At first, they said no, but one day they called and said, “Mike, we're beginning to see what you mean."
They offered above-market prices for the houses, but ended up buying only one, which would have been in the actual shadow of the proposed Bellin Health clinic.
"They wouldn't have been able to do anything but grow mushrooms," Aubinger said of the homeowners. "The Packers didn't have to do that."
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Murphy tries to return all phone calls, especially to fans and shareholders.
"Sometimes they feel like they want to vent," he said. "Every March, it's like 'why aren't we signing free agents?' "
The Packers also frequently are criticized by fans — once a year at least — for raising ticket prices. The team has decided it needs to remain in the middle of the NFL on ticket costs, a move that tries to mollify those conflicting constituencies.
The league's collective bargaining agreement with players will come up in a couple of years and Murphy's looking forward to being involved because "I think that really will be important for the organization and the league."
The Packers are respected by other owners, despite their unique environment, because they've been successful on and off the field, he said.
"What we've done with the stadium and the area around the stadium, I think people across the league have noticed and it's viewed as positive for the league," he said.
Murphy celebrated his 61st birthday July 13, so he has nine more years as Packers president if he wants them. The mandatory retirement age is 70.
"I feel very fortunate that I love my job," he said, "and the time and years just fly by because I'm enjoying what I'm doing and enjoy the people I work with."
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Mark Murphy thoughts:
On going from player to president: "There's no question, I think through my experience as a player and, quite honestly my involvement with the players association, it gives me a great appreciation for the challenges the players face and the issues players face."
On community ownership: "We don't have the same profit incentive. I think we are more driven to win championships. Also, I'm hopeful there's a culture where we want to do the right thing and treat our players well ... especially from a medical standpoint."
On Super Bowl championships: "I think you have a greater appreciation as an executive than a player of how challenging it is to win a Super Bowl, of how many different people contribute to it."
On the Packers and community: "I had an understanding of the uniqueness of the Packers organization ... but there's no question, being here and living it gives you a different appreciation."
On the organization's growth: "One of the challenges as we've grown, by necessity we've got committees and we've got a structure, but we've tried to maintain a culture where we're not necessarily corporate. One of the things we talk about a lot (during all-organization meetings) is our values and trying to make sure we stay true to those."
On expanding Lambeau Field: "You know the challenge is we've got this historic, iconic stadium and you want to make changes that you feel are necessary in terms of fan amenities and modernizing it, but do it in a way where it doesn't take away from what makes Lambeau special. I think we've been able to do that."
On how long to serve: "I think you think a little bit about (retirement), but, knock on wood, I'm healthy and still enjoy what I'm doing. I think the other thing is hopefully I'm making a difference, contributing in a positive way to the organization."