Dueling Perspectives: Christopher Martin and Cam Murphy
Earning one's stripes as a young G2 leader.
Friends Christopher Martin, 29, and Cam Murphy, 30, both succeeded entrepreneurial parents as leaders of growing businesses.
Martin is president of American Health Associates. The company, based in Davie, Fla., was founded by his mother, Debbie L. Martin, in 1990. He joined American Health in 2013 to help the company acquire MEDLAB from bankruptcy. Before joining American Health, he founded a software company with two college friends.
Murphy is managing director of FEAM.Aero, which provides line maintenance, repair and other services to commercial and cargo airlines. His father, Fred Murphy, founded the Miami-based company in 1992. Murphy grew up doing a variety of jobs at FEAM and then left to start a niche aviation staffing company, Global Inflight Services, with his mother, Rivien Murphy. He rejoined FEAM in 2011.
We asked the two friends, “What’s the key to earning respect when following in a founder’s footsteps?”
“My path to where I am today was really almost as much one of emergency as one of planning. We were all very transparent about the needs of the business, and where I needed to be in the business.
“My mom needed help buying what at the time was the largest company in our industry, MEDLAB. We purchased that company out of bankruptcy in 2014. When we finished the transaction, I took the reins of that company. I was doing the job before it was given to me.
“My mom needed somebody that she trusted with the acumen to actually do the deal. She didn’t pull out my résumé and say, ‘He clearly has what it takes to do this deal.’ It was more like, ‘I trust my son, and he’ll figure this out or we won’t do the deal.’
“My mom is much more entrepreneurial than I am. For her to take the risks that she did, to have had the vision that she did, is an extraordinary testament to who she is. But the point that I’ve made, in a respectful way, is that building a business from zero to one is different than scaling a business. My job, I feel, is not to supplant my mom, but rather to augment her vision, in a way that is relevant to today’s challenges and where we are in terms of scale.
“In terms of following somebody in a business, I think it doesn’t do you or them any good to say that what they did was wrong. Even if you feel that things should be different, you should emphasize the positive things that their leadership saw.
“If you’re very transparent about how you’re arriving at conclusions, when things go wrong — not if, but rather when — you have a group of people that understand why you were thinking the way that you were. And they’ll probably back you.”
“You have to be careful not to compare yourself to or overextend yourself in emulating the founder. You’re blessed to be in the position you’re in because of the founder. So you have to be fully invested in the business and learn the culture and every aspect of the business. Understand what the founder’s intentions were and morph that into what applies today.
“You have to learn from your failures. You’re not going to be perfect at everything, and the times that you do fail, you have to admit, ‘You know what, I made a mistake.’ And learn from it.
“I sat down with my father, and he described to me the things he wanted to see in the business. I took a lot of notes, so that when we were redefining our company culture, I could say, ‘These are the values that are going to guide our decisions.’
“You have to have mental toughness, and have mentors, and educate yourself as much as possible so that you can add value to the business. You unfortunately have to work a little bit harder because you are the second generation coming into the business.
“Results are all that matters, especially to my father. You can tell him a great idea, but if you don’t execute the idea, you’re not going to earn his respect. For my father and my mother, I’ve shown that I can execute on different things. They’ve seen the impact on the business.”