Management consulting with a cosmic twist

A former monk finds a new vocation in helping executives find themselves.

Ethics & values

October 10, 1999|By Rhoda Fukushima | Rhoda Fukushima,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Patrick Murphy's resume is not that of your typical management consultant.

He has taught, but never taken, a business class. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana. He is a former Trappist monk.

But tapping his spiritual foundation, Murphy tries to help successful corporate big shots craft mission statements aimed at reconnecting who they are with what they do. He encourages them to view a company as community, and draw up "strategic plans" for their lives. His questions to these power brokers are simple, their answers complex. For instance:

What work or labor really makes me happy?

How does that compare with what I do?

What is my role within the organization?

Is there a role within the organization that I would be better suited for, or should I move to another organization?

"Most of my clients are successful in business, but somehow unhappy," says Murphy, who is based in Excelsior, Minn. "What they are doing is not feeding their soul."

Care and feeding of the soul is familiar ground for him. After graduating from St. John's University, Murphy, 42, ditched plans for graduate work and joined the Peace Corps. He was assigned to teach English in Botswana, where he lived in a mud hut with few conveniences.

The simplicity of that way of life stayed with him after he returned to the United States. Drawn to the primitive monastic life, he joined a Trappist abbey in Utah, where he worked as an assistant beekeeper.

Murphy didn't know it then, but honey would be his transition into business. At the abbey, he developed and marketed a line of honey-based spreads. His success in creating the industry helped support the abbey's aging monks.

"It was learning from scratch, like the Peace Corps adventure," he says. "There was no fear."

Eventually, Murphy decided that solitary life did not nurture his soul as much as community. He left the abbey and moved to Minneapolis, where friends and family lived. By day, he networked and went on informational interviews. At night, he worked at a gas station to keep busy and pay the bills.

"I asked myself, `What do I really want to do with my time?' There were so many choices, so many ways to work," he says.

Meantime, Murphy's spiritual work continued. At a Bible study group he facilitated, he met Michael McGlynn, a commercial bakery owner. Murphy didn't know it at the time, but that connection would eventually lead to a position as chief executive of DecoPac, McGlynn's wholesale bakery supply company.

Murphy retired from McGlynn's in 1995. He started his consulting company and, later, a cigar business.

He and his wife, Joyce, and son, Drew, 7, moved from Eden Prairie to Excelsior to live a simpler life.

Now, Murphy focuses on helping clients discover whether their discontent stems from personal or organizational issues. His clients share their individual stories and the stories of their companies or organizations. When necessary, he refers them to counseling psychologists.

Murphy often works with founders and top executives of companies, who, he says, often need to create a new role or get a better handle on their existing one. Many successful business people experience a letdown and start searching for deeper meaning, he says. Do they stay? Do they go?

Take the successful business executive whose child was diagnosed with cancer. He was torn between running his organization and being at home. The child survived the cancer, but the experience left the man wondering whether his time was being well spent.

"Our generation is beginning to realize that as we age, every moment has value," he says. "I need to start taking an inventory about what I do with my day, my labor and whether it relates to what I really want to do before I face my mortality."

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