Doing simple well

Brian Murphy talks about his leadership style, humble beginnings and how Reliaquest got so big

Photos by Michael McCoy

When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, a young Brian Murphy had it all figured out.

“I was going to go to Florida State University, I was going to major in accounting and I was going to be in business,” Murphy says as he laughs earnestly. “My view of business was what I saw in the movies. The concept of business was a big building and a briefcase. and it was so different than anything elseI saw around me at the time.”

In fact, Murphy used a briefcase in school instead of a backpack. 

It didn’t matter. A laser-focused person since he was a child, Murphy is the kind of man that sets his mind to a mission and heads off to conquer it. Failure is not in his vernacular.

“I’m a very focused person. I’m a big believer that what you focus on is what you get so I try to eliminate all distractions and drive to the goal,” he says.

From the start, his two older brothers, Robert and Kevin, were incredibly influential on Murphy’s life and worldview.

His parents, originally from upstate New York, were blue collar workers that rode down to warmer weather with Murphy’s older brothers, in 1970. They eventually landed in Florida and their third son, Brian, was born in Margate in 1977.

“My parents have never admited I was an accident, but I think I was the best mistake they made,” he says.

THE PUBLIX EFFECT

There are two types of young Floridians, those that wait tables and those that work at Publix, Murphy says as he laughs.

For Murphy, his family got a leg up in life, thanks to the opportunities Publix afforded them.

During a soccer game that Murphy’s father was coaching, another dad approached him and asked why he never saw the children’s mother at the games.

Murphy’s parents took different kid shifts. Dad worked during the day, mom worked at night. After a discussion, the dad, a store manager at Publix at the time, invited Murphy’s mother in to discuss a job.

“At the time, you couldn’t get hired at Publix full time,” Murphy says.

She was offered an opportunity to be a cashier  at Publix, full-time, right out of the gate.

That one door opened and led to two other Murphy boys getting jobs bagging groceries at Publix, one of those brothers works for the company today.

“Everything I’ve learned about customer service came from my time at Publix,” Murphy says. “The simple things like, you don’t point to the ketchup, you walk someone to the ketchup. I call it doing simple, well.”

TAKING RISKS

Murphy has not shied away from taking big risks in his life or his career. Sometimes leaping, not even knowing where the ground was.

“I think my risk-taking side might come from my dad,” Murphy says.

After Murphy visited Florida State University and his brother Robert’s fraternity house, there was really no other option but to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“I never made one grade the most important, the prom didn’t matter, homecoming didn’t matter,” Murphy says. “Imagine you’re nine or 10 years old, and you’re not looking forward to eighth grade or ninth grade. I was ooking forward to Florida State, and that was all that mattered.”

He was so specific in his plans. He would attend FSU, join the same fraternity as his brother, become treasurer, and the president. The same trajectory he watched his brother Rob have.

He only applied to FSU for college, nowhere else would do. He got in and he did all of the things he said he would do.

“I grew up in an intense home where accountability and hard work were valued and expected,” Murphy says. “ No one ever had to sit down and say, Brian, you should work hard. Working hard was all around me.”

When Murphy was 16, it was time for him to get a job. With his mother and two older brothers already working at Publix, it was a given, in his mind, that he would also work for the grocer, but it wasn’t a handout.

“I’m thinking mom will help me, or one of my brothers will help. My dad is like, ‘No, no, no. I’m going to drop you off. You’re going to walk in there and ask to speak to the store manager.’ It is the most blue-collar way of thinking. Do it the hardest possible way,” Murphy says. “The store manager laughed and said, ‘I know your mom, I know your brothers, and if your parents had four more kids, I’d hire them too.”

ROAD TO RELIAQUEST

Murphy met his wife, Renee, while at FSU. They ran in the same social circle. 

“I was probably around Renee like 50 times,” Murphy says. “She was with her friends, I was with mine. She wanted nothing to do with me.”

Renee was finishing up her master’s degree at Florida State, and Murphy graduated. He headed to Tampa to start work with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“We reconnected around the time that mutual friends of ours were getting married,” he says. “We were paired to walk down the aisle together for the wedding.”

They soon started dating, and never stopped.

“She moved over to Tampa. We got engaged and had Devin.”  Their youngest child is Parker.

The couple married in 2005. In 2007, Murphy started his next business venture, though he didn’t know what it would evolve to be.

“There wasn’t even a formal business plan. I just knew I didn’t want to be where I was, like I wanted to build something that I wouldn’t want to leave,” he says.

After finding some support from friends and family, Murphy had his business. Now he just needed to find a purpose.

“I wanted something that wasn’t based on a single idea, but it was something that could be something to create ideas,” Murphy said. “I don’t believe in ‘a-ha’ moments, but instead being self aware and getting better.”

Murphy cared more about the quality of  the business he ran, and worried less about the type of business.

“When I opened Reliaquest, it was this idea that we’re going to sell  IT and engineering consulting and contract services to large companies,” Murphy said. “Basically, we would have sold a scarecrow to a farmer to make money at that point.”

After months of cold-calling, building a small team, and working out some early kinks. Reliaquest had an opportunity knock at its door that would shape the future of the company. 

“This company in Atlanta asked us if we could help them with work in Iraq around satellite systems.”

Murphy and his team said yes to everything, and googled what it meant later.

“We knew the technology, but we didn’t know all the language. We had to research everything,” Murphy said. “We found a set of four people that were a perfect fit. We called the company back and they’re like, ‘great, send me your cage code.’  ‘Uh, sure, sure.’ ‘And what’s your contract vehicle number?’ ‘Yeah, number vehicle number.’ The whole office is gathered around, like this is our shot.”

Finally, Murphy said he got called out.

“The guys says to me, ‘You don’t know what any of this means, do you?’ and I admitted we did not. But we did good work, and he needed our people. So he showed us some mercy,”  Murphy says.

And that is the story on how Murphy found his business niche. Satellite space, networking engineering and information assurance soon followed, and eventually so did cybersecurity.

“I believe that if you’re willing to do the things that other people won’t, you can win in the end,” he says.

But Murphy knew he needed to educate himself more about the military to really help his company excel. The best way to do that, for him, was to volunteer in the community and learn from those that worked in that world everyday.

SUPPORTING THE TROOPS

In the process of learning how to understand and provide services to his client base, Murphy learned about something called differential pay, which means the employee receives his or her normal pay while away on military leave.

“It was 2012, and one of our employees who was in the reserves was being deployed,” Murphy says. “I didn’t know what differential pay was until then.”

The company now offers six months’ worth of differential pay to employees who get deployed. When word of the practice, which isn’t common, got back to the Department of Defense, Murphy was recognized with the Department of Defense Patriot Award.

In addition to their involvement with the military community, Reliaquest recently committed a $1 million gift to the University of South Florida  to fund the Reliaquest Cybersecurity Labs at the Muma College of Business.

“There’s a shortage of trained and skilled cybersecurity workforce, but I have to believe that there’s no shortage of people that would like to be in those positions,”  he says.

Murphy puts a heavy emphasis on training at his company as well. Using a program called Reliaquest University to not just prep new hires for the technical parts of their jobs, but also  the values that Reliaquest stands for.

“We put a lot of time and investment in our people, and that’s how we maintain an employee retention rate of 90 percent,” Murphy says.

This is all a result of doing simple well. ♦

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