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Looking Backward Before You Go Forward with Steve Murphy, CEO of Epicor

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The company was a Goliath in its industry and Marissa had a lot of respect for it. But she also knew the company was facing hard times, and when she got the call asking her to join the team as CEO, she knew that turning things around would be no small feat. 

 The company had an attrition rate of close to 25% – meaning 1 in 4 people were leaving. It had cycled through6 CEOs in the last 5 years. The stock price was dropping and revenue losses were at an all-time high. Most news sources, investors, and business execs agreed that the company was on the way to the grave. To join the sinking ship would be crazy — and Marissa knew it was crazy.

 But, of course, we wouldn’t be sharing her story if she hadn’t taken the leap. 

 Marissa started as CEO the day her appointment was announced. But rather than jump in, take the wheel, and try to save the ship, for the first 90 days, she did… nothing. She didn’t present a strategy, she didn’t cut off hemorrhaging lines of business, she didn’t try to recruit a new team — no, she remained silent, and, for three months, all she did was listen. 

 It’s a technique many notable CEOs have used when entering a new organization, and it’s one that Steve Murphy, CEO of Epicor Software, has relied on time and time again. What exactly helped Steve and Epicor write a new ending to their story. How did he turn Epicor into a thriving business making more than $900 million in revenue, with 20,000 customers in more than 150 countries? Find out on Business X factors.

Main takeaways: 

  • Talk Less, Listen More: If you want to become a better leader of a business team, become a proactive listener. Especially when a business is going through big changes or is at an inflection point, leaders should not be tempted to rush and communicate what’s on their mind. The first step is to listen to customers and your workforce and to engage, to be able to understand. Astute leaders know that surrendering the floor is how you get to understand what is on the mind of others. The smartest person in the room is often not the one doing the talking; it is the person who is engaging and asking relevant questions and doing most of the listening. 
  • Rewind, Take Stock, Move Forward/YouCan’t Connect The Dots Moving Forward: Steve Jobs famously said at Stanford University that you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. For companies, this rearview mirror to connect the dots of past mistakes makes great sense in finding out what was broken and why it was broken. By looking back or taking a step back, you can develop a tactical tool kit that will help you to move forward. Weave the lessons you learned in the past into a future strategy and move on toward a more successful future.
  • Putting Out Small Fires Won’t Do It: When businesses experience problems, you can examine and try to fix a range of symptoms, like missed deadlines, low morale, lack of materials or software problems or put out the small fires. A better solution is to dig deeper into the root causes of problems, diagnose the underlying issues with your team. Root cause analysis consists of defining the problem, digging below the surface for the underlying conditions that gave rise to the problem. Design and implement a solution with buy-in at all levels and evaluate the success.
  • Managers Don’t Need to be Liked: Managers’ relationships with their teams can often seem like that of a tightrope walker between too close and too distant. As a boss is often the reason why people leave a company; it is important to get it right. Friendliness and respect without friendship create balance and this balance needs to be constantly adjusted. To get the balance right: Focus on the job you have to do, it’s about delivering results; set the boundaries between you and your team, but give descriptive feedback on what has been done and the impact it had; keep emotional self-control; take responsibility if things go wrong; know your team by taking time to listen. Give respect and it will be given back.

Key Quotes:

“I remember as a kid taking apart a lawnmower that didn’t work and putting it back together as a ten-year-ol. It was going to be thrown away by my dad and was like, I think I can get it to work, got it to work and then I made money. I was always interested in building stuff, and I could give you a long list of things I built.”

 “We implemented an ERP system and I saw how powerful it was. And this was for inventory selection in a 400,000 square foot warehouse for soap detergent, tide detergent… And that was when the light bulb went off. And I said, ‘I think this is something I want to do.’” 

 “If you like to build things, the place where you have an unlimited opportunity to build almost anything is software. I mean, you’re not constrained by anything.”

 “And I remember at times being very isolated, became like a manager in management as a very young guy in that big distribution centre. And I remember having to grapple with that, like, okay, well, part of leadership is, if your objective is I want everybody to like me, you probably won’t be any good at your job. But if respect is enough and keeping your word is enough for you, then you can handle those leadership roles.”

“We went out and said to all the different functional experts, ‘Hey, this is a transition we’re making and we’ll provide you the tools to succeed.’ And 10 years ago, I would have said that it’s probably a 50-50 on our more experienced salespeople that could make the leap. And it turned out it was a lot higher than that. It was probably four out of five with the right support and training… I will say we overachieved.” 

 “We have a very strong relationship with ACE hardware and ACE hardware has around 4,000 hardware stores that run on our software… But in my first week on the job, a few years prior to that, the conversation with this guy was like, we’re not sure we want to do business with you anymore because we’re disappointed in some of the things you promised that you didn’t do. And it wasn’t me, hadn’t been here for that. It’s like, ‘Hey, feedback accepted.’” 

 “One of the things that I saw was some real strain in the relationship with the China supply chain. In other words, there were a lot of places where people were manufacturing products domestically, and they’re really concerned about sourcing components or products, or being able to make the goods that they had to bring to market… And I won’t say I was some kind of a cognizant who had a crystal ball, but it was clear to me as a guy who has been in manufacturing for almost 30 years now that this was happening and this will continue to happen.”

Bio:

Steve Murphy is the CEO of Epicor Software Corporation, a global leader in providing flexible industry-specific software for manufacturing, distribution, retail and service industry customers. He joined Epicor in 2017, bringing 20 years of experience in the technology industry with him. Before joining Epicor, Murphy served as the President of OpenText, where he was responsible for all customer-facing activities. He also held operations leadership positions at Oracle, Sun, Microsystems and Manugistics and managed major resource planning (ERP) implementations at Accenture. His first job out of college was on the factory floor at Procter & Gamble. Murphy holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and contributes to Forbes Tech Council. He believes failure is by far the quickest learning mechanism there is.

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Episode 27