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Remembering Richard T. Murphy, Jr., a modern-day Renaissance Man

When Richard T. Murphy, Jr. passed away on July 4, 2019, he left an amazing legacy on many fronts: a fulfilling career in landscape architecture, including 25 years of teaching; close to three decades as a successful entrepreneur and business leader of Murphy Logistics Solutions, a fourth-generation family owned business; and his role as an optimistic and dedicated environmental advocate and highly regarded logistics industry and community leader.

As a child, Richard Murphy was always interested in shaping his environment – first, in his backyard sandbox, and later, as a seasonal worker at a landscape company. He trained as a landscape architect at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, eventually teaching and working in the field before returning to Minneapolis to help run Murphy Warehouse Company (now known as Murphy Logistics Solutions). Richard took over the family business at a time when it was struggling and he was needed, leaving a successful career in landscape architecture to become a widely recognized leader in the logistics field. He turned around the family business and served his customers with exceptional attention to detail, delivering year after year of profitable growth to shareholders. Today, the company is a thriving asset-based 3PL that provides distribution, transportation, warehousing, value-added, real-estate and customized business logistics services for domestic and international clients through numerous locations in Minnesota and Missouri. Other business interests include a specialized rigging/millwright firm and numerous real estate entities. “Our family is extremely pleased with the business and proud of the family values that he instilled in the culture, and we intend to continue to operate the business as a privately held enterprise,” said Alexandra Murphy, board chair.

Richard’s landscape architecture experience taught him to be a problem solver and shaper of the environment – skills he put to good use turning around his family business and building the company into a leading-edge logistics firm. Though he left the day-to-day profession, he never left these roots.

As he built Murphy Logistics Solutions into the successful company it is today, Richard retained an interest in making the world a better place by changing and improving environments.

A popular speaker to industry, business and education audiences, Richard shared how warehousing and logistics had an environmental footprint of five billion square feet under roof – or enough to create a four-foot walkway between the Earth and moon, he was fond of pointing out. Richard built the case that these roofs were a perfect setting for solar panels and installed them on his warehouses as an example, tracking the ROI along the way. He also regularly shared how in 25+ years of tending native prairies around his warehouses, he tracked the ROI and found more than $1 million in savings – and counting.

“This process taught me to use my business brain and approach on all things environmental,” he once said. “In other words, our sustainability initiatives had to make sense from two perspectives: one, that they be good for the environment, and two, that they be good for the business. Without a sustainable, profitable business, you have nothing.”

He and his company have been the recipients of many awards and recognition. Most recently, Richard was honored as a 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year – Heartland Finalist. In 2016, he was honored as one of the 10 inaugural members of the “Most Admired CEOs” in Minnesota by Mpls. / St. Paul Business Journal. He also was esteemed as a member of the first class of “50 Over 50 most accomplished and inspiring Minnesotans” by AARP & Pollen. In 2015, Richard was awarded the University of Minnesota’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and in November 2014, he was inducted into the College of Fellows of The American Society of Landscape Architects, the society’s highest honor. He also received the American Society of Landscape Architects – Minnesota Chapter’s 2006 Public Service and 2013 Lob Pine Awards. His contributions as an adjunct professor in landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota College of Design were also recognized with the 2005 Distinguished Teaching Award.

Richard’s numerous industry honors include the 2006 William K. Smith Distinguished Service Award from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies, the 2009 Minnesota Engineering Excellence Honor Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Minnesota, and the 2010 Extraordinary Service to the Industry Award from IWLA. In addition, Murphy Warehouse Company (as it was known at the time) received the 2010 Minnesota Family Business Legacy Award from Minnesota Business Magazine and the 2013 Family Business of the Year Award from the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

Murphy Logistics Solutions is recognized nationally and internationally for their more than 25 years of sustainability initiatives. From planting acres of native prairies on their logistics campuses to becoming the largest landowner in Minneapolis exempt from stormwater fees to becoming the fifth largest solar power producer in Minnesota to creating the largest fully LED-lit building in the Upper Midwest, Murphy has been a pioneer in sustainability.

A licensed landscape architect, Richard is a past president of the American Society of Landscape Architects – MN Chapter. Richard is a past chair of the global Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), chair of the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS), and board member of the College of Design at the U of M. In 2017, Richard established the Richard Murphy MLA ’80 Fellowship Fund at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He served six years on Children’s Minnesota’s board, and Murphy Logistics is an annual sponsor of the hospital’s Shine Bright Bash to benefit the Cancer and Blood Disorders Program. He sat on the Western National Insurance Company Board, Harvard Graduate School of Design Alumni Board, the U of M Carlson School of Management’s Supply Chain & Operations Advisory Board, University of St. Thomas Family Business Center Board, and MnDOT’s Transportation Policy and Economic Competitive Board.

Richard loved rock ‘n’ roll; he was a frequent concert-goer and his office was filled with memorabilia from the early days of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He enjoyed international travel and photographing his experiences. He loved spending time with his four children. His first granddaughter, Frances, was especially bringing him joy in his last days. He had just bought her a swing to put up in his backyard.

Ever the optimist, Richard dreamed of making a difference and he did for so many people, from his long-term employees to his landscape architecture students to industry colleagues and the many friends he made along the way. His letters and emails always were signed with the closing, “Warm Regards, Richard” – and you knew he meant that sincerely.

Richard always hoped that his pioneering sustainability efforts would catch on – and they did. Drawing on his rich background, he understood the importance of solving a problem, creating a vision, and then showing others how they could do the same. He once said, “I think it’s important to spread the gospel–here’s a little company doing these things. If we can do it, they can do it.

“And if everyone would do it, the world would be a better place.”