First Coast Success: Navy veteran Murphy focuses on being team builder

Murphy with Allie, a rescue bloodhound-lab-shepherd mix. When Murphy adopted Allie, she was told the 4-month-old puppy probably would not grow to more than 40 pounds. At the age of 7, Allie weighs in at 105 pounds. She often spends time in the office.
Murphy with Allie, a rescue bloodhound-lab-shepherd mix. When Murphy adopted Allie, she was told the 4-month-old puppy probably would not grow to more than 40 pounds. At the age of 7, Allie weighs in at 105 pounds. She often spends time in the office.
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Kathryn Murphy served as a nurse in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps for 24 years, retiring in 1996 to join the Mayo Health Plan as director of Health Services.

After five years, she left Mayo and bought her first Comfort Keepers franchise in 2002 and five years later, acquired her second. Managing those has been her career the past 12 years.

Along the way, Murphy has picked up awards, including the 2011 Small Business Administration Women in Business Champion of the Year for the state and the district; the 2008 Women Business Owners of North Florida Franchisee of the Year; a 2013 Women of Influence honoree by the Jacksonville Business Journal and the 2013 Florida Achievement Award from the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Murphy also was one of the seven women featured in February in Florida Trend magazine’s focus on women entrepreneurs in the state.

How did you switch from serving in the Navy to being an employee and then to owning a business?

Actually, it was a very simple transition. I look back now and I realize that the experiences I gained in the Navy, through leadership and though management, combined with the experience with the Mayo Health Plan, because it was a brand new company and I was charged with building my own department, establishing my own policies and procedures, were stepping stones.

Comfort Keepers is a nationwide business and you provide services to seniors. How did you choose that franchise? Was that a natural fit for you?

It really was, but I didn’t know it at the time. When the Health Plan closed at Mayo, they afforded the six of us directors some outplacement resources and I met a franchise headhunter and listened to his presentation on owning a business, franchise or starting it by yourself. He also offered an interview and a questionnaire and analysis on whether he thought you would be good for a franchise.

I went through that process and he actually led me to Comfort Keepers. When I did my due diligence, I realized that it was really everything I wanted to do, where I could use my experience from the Navy, my clinical experience as a nurse, my management and my leadership and put it all together and serve people in my community.

What is your leadership style?

It’s really focused on being a team builder. At this time in my career, it’s important for me to identify the talent that’s out there. Many times I could be wrong, but when I bring them on and hire them, I want to make sure that I provide that nurturing, the training that they’ll need and provide the resources.

I truly believe that people come to work and they want to do a good job and that when somebody doesn’t, as a leader, you have to look back and ask yourself, what have you fallen short of? Did you provide them the training? Did you nurture them? Did you coach them? Did you teach them?

I see myself as a “hands-on” type of leader. I could never ask any of my employees to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. I hope that they see that and appreciate that.

Your business has grown from two employees to 75. How did those dynamics change your leadership style?

When the company began to grow, I had to realize that I could no longer be the marketing person, the sales person, the manager, the janitor, and all those different things and somewhere along the line I sort of grasped onto the saying “know what you do best and hire the rest.”

It was easy for me to realize what my strengths were, but then it was about building that team and either training or hiring folks with expertise that I needed, and to rely on other people to carry out different functions.

I have just really had to become a better delegator and let others take on responsibility.

Do you find it easy to delegate?

At times, yes, and at times, it can be a challenge, particularly if you don’t have the expertise on board. Sometimes, what I have to do is look internally. I love to promote from within and we’re going through some restructuring at the moment. Perhaps I haven’t tapped into some of my employees’ talents and maximized them.

We’re doing some restructuring so they can take on some additional responsibilities, and they can grow while the company’s growing.

Let’s talk strategy. You are in a growing industry in home services for an aging population in Florida. How do you plan corporate growth?

This is a very interesting and dynamic environment. Being in this industry and being in Florida, it is very competitive. As a result, I have lots of competition and I truly believe that with all the additional regulations and, in many cases, hindrances being placed on small businesses that I have seen over the past few years, small businesses in my industry come and go.

What I try to do is I try not to be the fastest growing, I try not to be the biggest home-help agency, we’re far from that in Jacksonville, but I do strive to be the best.

We grow smartly and methodically. I think sometimes I’ve been accused of having a “paralysis of analysis,” but I want to make sure that as we grow, we are growing for the right reasons and we’re providing the very best care as possible.

Your services for in-home seniors include companionship, errands, light housekeeping and many others. Your specialties are Alzheimer’s and dementia care and referral management. Those can be very emotional services, especially for family members of the patient. How do you deal with that?

We’re a very mission-driven organization. Our mission is to provide our clients with the highest level of quality of life that’s achievable. We will treat our clients with the respect and dignity that they deserve as though we are caring for our own family.

At the end of the day, I have to ask myself: “Is this what we’ve achieved? Have we been in the homes of our clients and helped them achieve the highest level or the highest quality of life that’s achievable?” We have to realize we’re not going to help an 85-year-old lady who has midstage dementia get much better, but how do we make a difference in her life and perhaps her daughter’s life, her grandchildren’s life, her spouse’s life perhaps.

I often ask my office staff: “I want you to think for a moment, how many lives we’ve impacted today.” It’s easy to look at our scheduling system and see how many clients we’ve served for that day, but we really have to go beyond that because if we help that daughter or that son and take away some of their stress, they become a better employer, a better employee, a better parent, perhaps a better teacher, and that all rolls downhill within the family.

The grandchildren of our clients may feel relieved because their parents are relieved. We offer those adult children peace of mind when we’re in the homes of their loved ones.

We hire a lot of employees and we’re making sure food is on their tables as well.

When you put those things in perspective, it keeps us really focused on our work and it is very gratifying even though we hear a lot of sad stories. But if we can be part of that solution, to make a positive impact for our clients and their loved ones, then we know we’ve achieved our mission.

What’s the most challenging part of that job?

As a nurse, when I first started this business, I knew that we were in a business of caring for people. I always thought it was the client side that would be so challenging. Perhaps we’d do something wrong or our clients wouldn’t like us, or something along that line and, in fact, that’s not it at all. That is more so the easy part.

The challenging part is finding the caregivers. When we hire our caregivers, we’re not looking for people who just need a job. We’re looking for people who have that internal drive or motivation and that share the same passion as I do and want to make a difference in somebody’s life.

That’s my most difficult challenge, finding the topnotch, cream-of-the-crop caregivers to provide those services that we want for our clients.

Where did you grow up? Did you always want to join the Navy?

I grew up in a little town, the suburb of Chicago called Naperville, and I have two older brothers and my father worked and my mother always made sure dinner was ready at 5:30 when my father came home. I had a very stable childhood and I was very blessed.

About my third year in college it seemed that the military recruiters were hitting the nursing students pretty hard and I was intrigued by the Army recruiter and I couldn’t wait to tell my father, who had been in the Navy.

He was disappointed that I was leaning toward the Army, not the Navy, and I just figured that’s going to be my father, that’s what he was in and that’s what he would want his little girl to do.

I called my older brother who was a Green Beret in the Army and he was very excited for me and I thought for sure I would have his blessing, but he encouraged me to join the Navy and when I asked him why, there were various reasons.

But one of the reasons was, he told me to look at where all the Army duty stations were and where the Navy stations were and it didn’t take me long to realize the Navy was almost always on a coast and close to an ocean in a warm climate, such as in Jacksonville.

For that reason and other reasons, I went on both my father and my brother’s suggestions and I joined the Navy as a junior in college.

What brought you to Jacksonville?

I was stationed in Jacksonville in 1979 and 1982 and had various duty stations. I was in Orlando, I was in Guantanamo Bay, and I knew I was getting ready for my last duty station, so it was important for me to find a duty station where I felt I would grow into that community and not need another move.

I was in Orlando and I knew I didn’t want to stay there. My husband at the time was very interested in going back to Jacksonville, and as for me, I sort of wanted a different experience, I’d lived there, I liked it, but I wasn’t too crazy about returning to some place I’d already lived.

But after much discussion, we came back and I absolutely was very grateful that we made that decision. That was ’89, I was still in the Navy for another seven years and within that time, I fell in love again with the community and I knew this was home and this is where we stayed.

Talk a little bit about your family.

I have two sons that I’m very close to. Michael will be 26 this week and Ryan is 29 and when they were younger, we enjoyed a lot of traveling together. We went on lots of ski trips, a lot of Key West trips, enjoyed the outdoor sports. Mike has been running with me over the years.

You do a lot of running. Why’s that?

I do, I love it. As a nurse, I’ve always been sensitive to maintaining excellent health, but also it probably goes back to my childhood. I was the youngest of three, with two older brothers, so it seemed to me that I had to run faster just to keep up, and I’ve always enjoyed outdoor sports.

When I became an adult and I found time was of the essence and there didn’t seem there was enough time for everything, particularly going to the gym, or exercising of any sort, I realized that running was an

excellent sport.

What else do you do for fun?

A couple years ago, I was realizing that at some point in time running might be somewhat self-limiting. I went back to cycling and swimming and I do a lot of cross-training. I got connected with a group of women who absolutely adore exercise and we have a lot of fun.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a business?

If they’re in the Jacksonville area, I think they have a tremendous advantage and backup. If you’re a woman in Jacksonville and if you’re a veteran, you’ve got a lot of positive things that are in place in terms of resources.

My advice to an individual would be to really have a good grasp about what you’re passionate about. The perfect situation is to be in an environment that matches your passion, that matches your value system, and if you can identify that and you find a business opportunity that promotes that, that enhances that, that embraces that, then you’ve got a winning combination and the resources for that are here in Jacksonville.

What else would you like to share?

What have really driven my career are five words that start with “p” that would personify me.

Persistence. I’ve never been the fastest, the quickest, but if I have my mind set, I will continue to persist until I get better.

Perseverance because no matter what the odds are, if it’s something I want to achieve, I will persevere.

Passion. You have to be passionate about what it is you’re doing.

Patience. Sometimes we want things to come now, but I often say all good things come with time.

The last one is prayer. I pray a lot and I think that through the will of God, I’ve been graced with many opportunities and I continue to ask him to point me in the right direction.

About First Coast Success

The Daily Record interviewed Kathryn Murphy for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross.

The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or online at

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