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Commencement address by Mark Murphy ’77, Packers president

By Contributing Writer on May 20, 2012

(Note: These are prepared remarks by Mark Murphy ’77, president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers and former football captain and athletics director at Colgate, for Colgate’s 191st commencement.

Thank you, President Herbst and the Board of Trustees, for inviting me to speak today.  To the other award recipients, I am awed and humbled by your accomplishments and I’m honored to share the stage with you. To the faculty and staff of Colgate, the townspeople of Hamilton, and the friends and family of the Colgate Class of 2012, 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 one of the finest schools in the country.  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.

As I look back, I realize how much I owe to Colgate.  So many of the good things that have happened in my life were directly related to Colgate.

First, I received a great education.  In the coming years, you will have a better appreciation of how much you learned here.  I learned both in and out of the classroom.  I learned a lot from my fellow classmates and from my coaches.  Fred Dunlap, my football coach, has been a great role model and mentor to me.

Most importantly, I met my wife, Laurie, here.  I was a junior and she was a sophomore, and we had never met.  We shared a ride to Florida for spring break, and we’ve been together ever since.  She’s been a great partner over the years.  I’ve learned so much from her.  You will face many challenges in your life, and you are so much better off if you have a true partner to help you face those challenges.  In my position, people often tell me what they think I want to hear.  Laurie tells me what I need to hear.  She’s the most compassionate and caring person that I know.

I made great friendships here, and they’ve continued to the point that I’ll be back here in two weeks celebrating my 35th reunion by driving a lot of golf balls into the ponds and creeks on the Colgate golf course with a bunch of former classmates.

Colgate also gave me a great career opportunity.  They hired me to be the athletics director.  They took a chance on me.  I was 36 years old and relatively inexperienced.  It completely changed my career path and allowed me to follow my passion. (As the former athletics director, I want to congratulate the men’s lacrosse team on a great season and good luck against Duke today!)

Finally, because of Colgate, we raised our family here.  We lived here for over 11 years.  It is just a great place for kids to grow up — a small college town filled with lots of different kinds of people. We loved living here and were proud to be townies.

In addition to Colgate, 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, 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, the home of the Green Bay Packers.  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 just 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 1980s, 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 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, don’t be annoyed if your phone has no reception, and don’t cry if you wait all day for the new Glee episode and it turns out to be a rerun.  Yeah. I’m a Gleek.

But besides the obvious small stuff, I’ve learned that “don’t sweat the small stuff” is really about keeping perspective –oftentimes in the face of things that feel very big.

In 2008, the Packers organization was faced with a very difficult decision when our star quarterback, Brett Farve, one of the best quarterbacks ever, retired and then changed his mind.  We had made a commitment to his back up and eventually decided to trade Farve.

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 helps 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 Packer 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 250,000 new shareholders.  This means that I now have over 400,000 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.  On December 5th 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 bratwursts in the 3rd quarter.  How can they be out of brats at a Green Bay Packer 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. When I graduated from Colgate thirty-five years ago, I could never have imagined that one day I would be standing here like this. (Put on Wisconsin cheese head hat with tassel)

Congratulations again, and best of luck to you all.

 

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2 Comments



  • Dick Leland said:

    What a terrific speech by Mark Murphy.
    I am glad to have had the pleasure of meeting him personally when he was AD at Colgate and am a huge Packer fan as well as a great Mark Murphy fan.
    GO ‘GATE!!!
    GO PACK!!!!