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James D. Murphy: One of the industry’s great entrepreneurs

2017 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Jim Murphy Nov17 1

James D. Murphy was known as the “Lee Iacocca” of the metal building business in Eufaula, Ala., for his work with American Buildings Co. (ABC).

Throughout the metal building systems industry, he is known as an entrepreneur whose many contributions were substantial, beneficial and long lasting. Murphy was president of Cleveland-based Metal Building Manufacturing Association (MBMA) twice and set the standard for how MBMA operates.

Alabama Achievement

Murphy, who passed away in 2000, and a group of other investors purchased ABC in 1967 and turned it into an extremely successful company that provided buildings on a national level, and still does today. There are numerous accounts of how Jim’s purchase of ABC reinvigorated the town of Eufaula, and created fulfilling careers and prosperity for the local economy.

“From a book titled, ‘Candid Comments: Selected Columns for the Eufaula Tribune, 1958-
2006’, Jim Murphy was a friend to Eufaulians,” says Charles M. Stockinger, former general manager of MBMA. “He employed many who either lost their jobs or their businesses and needed a job. He was the mentor of many who learned how to succeed in the metal buildings industry. And all the while he was a good citizen who paid his civic rent daily. One example of Jim’s dedication to the town was that, upon seeing veterans returning from Vietnam, Jim donated a handsome eagle sculpture that still tops their monument on N. Eufaula Ave.”

“James Murphy was the guy who really made ABC what it initially was,” says Bob Ammerman, who took over ABC’s presidency when Murphy retired. “He grew it from being just a small regional company to a significant national player. At ABC he was a strong leader and an entrepreneur, very innovative. He made wise investments and expanded ABC plants and facilities to better service different parts of the industry in different geographical areas like the West Coast and the Northeast.”

“Jim was one of the great entrepreneurs in this industry. He interacted with all of the industry’s earliest leaders way back in the early days of the MBMA. His number one priority was always on the continued technical sophistication of metal building systems.”

Charles M. Stockinger, Metal Building Manufacturers Association, Cleveland

Stockinger says a real concern in the period that Murphy worked from the 1970s to the 1990s was a lot of buildings were being erected that were metal buildings, but weren’t metal building systems. “The industry was confronted with buildings that were using different parts, pieces and sheets that were not designed as a system,” he says. “Occasionally, when a building failed, typically it was a component-type building, and the failure came down to how it was designed, fabricated and erected. A metal building system takes advantage of all the technically sophisticated features designed into the building having to do with loads. Murphy made sure the customers understood that the industry focus was on the building system’s design and fabrication. He assured the public that if they bought a metal building system, it was a quality product and all the forces that affect that building systems had been taken into account. It wasn’t just an assemblage of parts. It wasn’t just a sum of its parts.”

MBMA Advancement

Murphy channeled all of the positive growth that he fueled ABC with into the entire industry when he served as MBMA president in 1973 and 1986. “It’s not easy when you are trying to run your own company to also be in charge of an association acting as its president,” says Dan Walker, MBMA associate general manager and vice president of Thomas Associates, Cleveland. “It’s a big call of duty.”

In spite of this challenge as association president, Stockinger says Murphy continued to be a major contributor in the development and advancement of the metal buildings industry and MBMA. “He was a real advocate of a strong association that dedicated time and funding to conducting relevant and peer-reviewed research,” he adds. “He made sure MBMA’s efforts in the technical, codes and specifications areas remained solid and were well funded. Jim was all in for MBMA, and by extension, the industry! He was one of a kind!”

Ammerman says at MBMA, Murphy supported and led its technical committee, which provided funds to work with universities in testing. This helped penetrate the low-rise nonresidential construction industry, which helped expand the market. Stockinger says that Murphy’s number one priority for MBMA was always the continued sophistication of metal building systems and how MBMA could enhance the product as an industry.

Ammerman cites Murphy’s interest in developing materials for specifications for improved strengths of steel which would make metal buildings more competitive in the marketplace. “Developing steel with different specifications made it more economical and more suitable to an application. He worked with many product suppliers in our industry to get them to advance their products to better suit our industry.”

Lasting Influence

Jim’s legacy can be felt in the local economy of Eufaula still today, and remains strong throughout the metal buildings industry.”[That influence] still carries forward the ideas and respect for each other in the metal building systems industry,” Stockinger says. “Whether they know it or not, today’s industry leaders reap great benefits from Jim’s early efforts in MBMA, because the bar was set so high in terms of what the industry should be working on for the betterment of everyone involved.”