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You may not have known this, but as quarterback Eli Manning drove the New York Giants to their game-winning touchdown in the final minute of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI, he did so with the help of a Shelby Countian standing right there on the Giants’ sideline.
No, he wasn’t wearing a Giants uniform, and he wasn’t the 12th man on the field for that late penalty, but he did help mold a group of professional athletes into the team that upset New England, 21-17, even if his contribution didn’t show up in the statistics or challenge Manning for a trip to Disney World.
He is Jim Murphy, a former baseball star at Shelby County and the University of Kentucky who took his career as a jet pilot to a new altitude with a company called Afterburner, Inc., a business management firm that helped the Giants’ shake their midseason funk and storm into an unlikely appearance in the title game.
And for Murphy, it was a contribution that earned a nice little reward.
“We were guests of the Giants [for the game], and we had field passes,” Murphy said Monday as he was preparing to leave his home in Atlanta for a trip to Brazil, to open a new office for his company and conduct a couple of seminars. “We were on the field for the post-game celebration and presentation of the Lombardi Trophy.”
Let’s get this right: Indy for the Super Bowl on Sunday, Atlanta on Monday and in Brazil today. That’s life in the fast lane, to be sure.
But, then, few can fly faster or higher or accomplish quite as much as has Murphy.
And he has flown a long, long way from the boy from Bagdad who had an eye on a career in baseball, a degree in liberal arts and selling copiers for Toshiba to a cockpit of one of the world’s fastest aircraft.
Maybe you knew Murphy, 47, at SCHS, Class of ’82. Maybe you played with him as a defensive back on one of Tom Becherer’s football teams or a shortstop on baseball teams coached by Hubie Pollett and Phil Bell.
“He was very intense and very competitive,” Pollett said. “He was an excellent ballplayer…put a hundred percent into everything. “
Maybe you followed his career as a first baseman at UK, where, Murphy said, “I thought baseball was my destiny until my last game.”
Maybe you bought a facsimile machine or copier from him when he called on your business.
Yep, that’s the guy whose company now trains millions in 23 countries how to conduct business the military way, a plan that crystallized in the cockpit, too, after some interesting twists and rolls.
How it started
Murphy said that when he was selling office equipment door-to-door, he met a fighter pilot. “I was really impressed with him, and I decided I wanted to learn to fly, thought about getting into the Air Force.
“It was very competitive. You’ve got about three hundred and fifty guys for one slot. But I made it. Then I went to officer training school and pilot training, where it was even more competitive and the washout rate was really high. I graduated at the top of my class and was chosen as an F-15 pilot. There only were eight chosen.
“So here I was, sixteen months after leaving Shelby County, and I was flying an F-15, the most sophisticated aircraft in the world.”
“I thought, ‘I can’t believe a guy like me, Jim Murphy, is in this seat right now. These people came from different walks of life into this role. I had an epiphany that day about what if others had that training. I vowed to emulate what they did.”
Murphy said he spent the next seven years studying the military management formula of planning, executing and debriefing, so he could teach it to businesses.
In 1996 he started Afterburner and recruited others who had received similar training to help him form his company. He now has about 60, all former fighter pilots, Navy SEALS and others from special ops.
And that cockpit vision has proven far better than 20/20.
Most of the companies Afterburner has helped are Fortune 500 companies, and Afterburner twice has landed in Inc. Magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in American. It has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Financial Times, Newsweek, and Meetings and Conventions Magazine. Just last week, during Super Bowl week, Murphy appeared on Headline News Network.
He is also the author of Business Is Combat, now in its third printing, and his latest book, Flawless Execution.
His model, he said, simply teaches basic military techniques that apply to the business environment, basing it on what pilots call “task saturation, which causes errors to increase and performance to decrease.
“What are companies doing now? Asking employees to do more with less. So we go in and test individuals and teams.
“That’s a key component we taught the Giants, that right when you finished to execute a debrief.”
To the Meadowlands
The Giants in mid-October were struggling at 4-3 and fighting for a foothold to get to the playoffs, much less advance in them.
That’s when owner John Mara and Coach Tom Coughlin called Afterburner.
When his team arrived at the Meadowlands, Murphy said, they found the team mired in a hierarchal culture that debriefed based on hints and finger pointing, a group he wanted to teach to go behind that and ask the whys.
“There was a hierarchy based on the salary caps, rookies, coaches etc., and it was not honest,” he said. “They would wait for superiors to tell them about mistakes. Players or peers or groups would admit the mistakes.”
Afterburner’s trainers broke the team into groups and implemented its trademarked Flawless Execution program, and the results were obvious: eight consecutive victories including the big one in Indianapolis.
“We worked with them into November, and they invited us to San Francisco [for the NFC title game on Jan. 22], and then they asked us to go to the big show,” Murphy said.
So there was Murphy, standing on the sidelines of the biggest television event in history, about 100 miles from where his family still lives.
His sisters, Traci Hunter, a real-estate agent, and Cheryl Meffert, who flies C-130s for the National Guard, still live in Shelby County. He has a niece who is a senior at Collins High School and a nephew who is attending Georgetown College.
His parents, Ann and Jim Murphy, still live near Bagdad on the farm that Murphy used to buzz with his jet when he would fly in for Thunder over Louisville or the air show in Clarksville, Ind.
“I would buzz Bagdad from time to time,” he said. “It upset some of the farmers, so I quit doing that. But most really liked it. I just tried to scare my dad.”
The big day
On Sunday, the Murphy family gathered at the home of Traci and John Hunter in Simpsonville to watch the game and look for familiar faces.
“They had seats in the friends and family section,” Traci Hunter said. “My sister-in-law Greice sat next to Rudy Gulliani. We never did see him.
“But he said that when they passed the trophy, he just reached out and touched it. But we didn’t see it.”
Jim and Greice Murphy stayed in Indianapolis for the team-only post-game party where “I got real close to the Lombardi Trophy,” he said. “I’ve been to Super Bowls before, but not like that.”
Then they drove back to Atlanta and headed out to Brazil, Greice Murphy’s homeland, but not before she downloaded hundreds of photographs for her Facebook page.
Meanwhile, the Giants continued to celebrate their victory with a parade in New York and accepting the $88,000 winning share each will receive, which begs the question:
Does Murphy get a share?
“I haven’t yet,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to sit by the mailbox.”