Newsletter Archive - People
An Interview with Jennifer Murphy, the "Apprentice" and a Whole Lot More
12/01/2005 - In the People section we usually feature news about people in the Yellow Pages industry - their achievements, promotions, changes in assignment, and updates on how retirees are doing. This month we thought we change the format and talk about just one person in the industry, someone that should truly bleed yellow and black. This month we feature Jennifer Murphy.
Donald Trump once called her "one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen" and hand-picked her for the fourth version his blockbuster, business based reality show show -- "The Apprentice". A New York Times story indicated Trump went against the choice of his producers, who had originally eliminated Murphy from consideration, saying she was too beautiful and would lack credibility.
Trump's response was classic Trump -- "They said she was too beautiful. I said, 'Excuse me. There is no such thing as too beautiful.' They said, 'Donald, she's so beautiful, she's not credible.' I said, 'No. 1, she happens to be smart. No. 2, she's very beautiful - congratulations, she's going to be on the show.'"
But TV glamour aside, what you may not know about this Apprentice is that she was hardly a beginner when she was selected from thousands of highly motivated, intelligent, business savvy Apprentice wanna-be's. She is the second oldest of twelve children and was home schooled in her native southern Oregon. Inspired by her entrepreneurial father, Jennifer began working full-time in the Yellow Pages industry for a small independent publisher learning all facets of the business at the age of seventeen while completing courses in business and marketing. By 19, Jennifer was selected for a Yellow Pages sales position with Qwest Dex (Dex Media). During her first year with the company, she achieved the prestigious President's Circle of Excellence award for her outstanding sales performance. By age 23, Jennifer became the youngest manager at independent publisher Phone Directories Company. There she built and managed new sales teams and markets for the company and consistently exceeded her goals by over 200% resulting in a "Manager of the Year" and "Canvass of the Year" accolades in her first year with the company.
The achievements don't just stop in the Yellow Pages industry. Jennifer was Miss Oregon USA and a top ten finalist at Miss USA 2004. Now 26, she recently moved from Southern Oregon to Los Angeles where she co-founded and now serves as CEO and President for a real estate development company, and is currently overseeing the construction of residential subdivisions. Jennifer is a classroom volunteer with Junior Achievement, and teaches young people how to succeed in business and build entrepreneurial skills.
NBC imposed a pretty severe gag order on contestants, so it wasn't until after Jennifer had been "fired" along three other teammate contestants that we were able to talk with her about the impact of Yellow Pages on her career, the Apprentice show, and what her future plans were.
YPT: YP is not considered a very "sexy", alluring business. What drew you to the media??
I really never gave the business a thought originally. I got into it more by luck. I started working with an older gentleman that owned a small local book (The Local Pages). I was 15 at the time and it was a great way to make money. But I got to learn all aspects of how to sell, produce and distribute a phone book. It was a perfect way to get my feet wet, to learn all about the business, and of course make some money. I started my initial sales calls at 17, and quickly went from part time working afternoons and weekends to working full time since I was able to graduate early from my home schooling. So here I was, this 17 year with my briefcase calling on these businesses. The owner helped me with the basics of the sales calls -- how to fact find, understand what kind of advertising program the business needed, how to then sell the features and benefits of the book. I really learned it the old fashion way. Since I do love to work with people, I took to it immediately.
By the time I had reached 19 I felt comfortable approaching Qwest Dex (US West at the time) about a sales position with them. But I had to pester the local sales manager for about 2 or 3 months until they finally agreed to grant me an interview. I went in for the interview and nailed it. Mostly I think my success in the interview was because of my experience in things like 4-H where you were giving presentations, and the pageant work that I had already started into where you are constantly presenting. So by the time I interviewed I was ready even thought I didn't have a college degree yet.
YPT: Based on your experience both in Yellow Pages and from the whole TV experience with the Apprentice show, what can the industry do to reposition itself in the marketplace and make it more attractive, more exciting to both prospective advertisers and potential employees??
I think we need to focus on what the Yellow Pages can offer, especially the new online products which are the upcoming products and viewed as being more current. For younger people, we need to continue to reinforce it really is more that just a phone book. It is in print, online, and even mobile products like cell phones. A lot of it is just how you present it to people.
For example, when going through the final cut to make the Apprentice show, I had made it to the final 50 people being considered. But I really had to impress the show executives who really didn't get the whole concept about the value that Yellow Pages provides and all of the skills needed to sell it. I think it was my enthusiasm for the industry and talking about the product, that it is an incredible media, and that I've seen how an investment in the product can literally change peoples lives and their businesses which convinced them. They could hear it in my voice, and in how I presented it. I found it was more how you say it, how you present it, than in every little specific of what you are saying, no matter who you are talking too. And it impressed them. I even challenged Mr. Trump but noting that he always says that you have to be passionate about what you do. I have truly loved working in this industry.
That passion helped me make the cut in the Apprentice show and I think if the industry can put that kind of message out there with the same level of enthusiasm and passion, people will notice. It will make an impact. And if I can use my new found recognition as a way to help push that message -- great.
YPT: What skills have you found to be either helpful or a hindrance in Yellow Page sales??
Enthusiasm for the business is the key. One of my earlier managers at Phone Directories -- Dick Sey always said enthusiasm is contagious.
Gaining background in a number of different roles is also important. During the whole Apprentice effort, I thought I was one of the most qualified people in the show given my sales and sales management experience, the fact that I had worked in new products/new markets, and worked one on one with customers on everything from the actual ads to handling billing issues. Collectively everything I have done has helped establish a foundation that prepared me. So certainly I'd suggest that people in the industry learn as much as they can about all parts of the industry.
YPT: What other factors have lead to your success??
The ability to work with other people, especially dealing with those that have big personalities and are often viewed as difficult people to work with. Being able to manage competitive people to help them channel their energy towards a goal is very important. The results I achieved at Phone Directories as a manager were directly linked to being able to identify top performers, train those with potential, and encourage them to work towards a goal. Having achieved sales results on my own I was able to gain the respect of those I worked with. Maybe being from a large family of 12 has given me some nurturing skills and practice to make things work.
YPT: Who have been your biggest mentors/supporters in your career??
First off, my dad was the biggest. He would always take turns bring each of his kids to work with him (electrical contractor), and I really loved the opportunity to go with him. I would have my own tool belt and we got to learn first hand a solid work ethic, pride in your work, and pride in your company. He always wanted his work to be of the highest quality and done right the first time. He also invented a new product and leveraged everything he had to market it, really taking a chance at making it work, and it did. He is a model entrepreneur. In many ways I was his apprentice.
George Thornhill was the publisher that I first had a chance to learn the Yellow Pages business from first hand. He was big mentor.
Marc and Debbie Bingham of Phone Directories were both incredible bosses/owners. They really took me under their wing and took a risk in hiring someone that hadn't managed people before. Being able to run with it, gained confidence in hiring someone that hadn't managed people before. Being able to run with it helped me gain confidence in myself and my own capabilities.
John Woodall, the president of Phone Directories Co, has always shown me support from the very top of the company. He supported my role within the company, and was also a huge fan as I competed in the Miss USA pageant and on "The Apprentice." He made me feel that the company supported me not just as an employee, but as a person as well.
Dick Sey gave me some great advice along the way. Wes Rice, a Regional Directory at Phone Directories, provided a great work environment. Wes didn't micromanage me. Instead he gave me the objectives expected and the freedom to make the decisions needed to achieve success. I think when you get that level of trust it certainly helps motivate you more to be successful.
YPT: How would you describe the Jennifer Murphy management style??
More of a motivating, uplifting, coaching style - almost even a cheerleader. Many people have said you shouldn't be friends with those that you work for or manager, but I can't help it. When I work with people I end up befriending them. When I look for people to work on my team I really try find those that will work well with the team. Skills are important, yes, but they have to be able to work with the team or I'll pass on them.
I also think that when you just demand a performance level from someone, a management by fear process, you might get results at first, but longer term that will not inspire them to excel. I think some times companies these days are pressed to achieve short term gains but are losing an even greater potential from a team. Most teams will excel when the company creates a positive ongoing environment for them. You can't beat that type of environment. I had that at Phone Directories and it will always be the kind of environment I will try to create as I build my future teams and businesses. It is more of a win-win situation where everyone can make money, the people and the company.
Favorite junk food? Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream
Favorite movie? Sound of Music
Best way to spend a day off?? Playing golf with family
Favorite gadget?? Probably my eye lash curler over my iPod
YPT: With the exposure you've gotten from the Apprentice, what does the new Jennifer Murphy team look like??
I have been building a team with a media training group call Media Savvy, the William Morris agency, and a publicist. Most people go to the entertainment industry hoping to be interviewed and selected. I've done the reverse by going out to meet as many people as I could so I could find the people I could meld with and work with best.
YPT: So clearly you are moving beyond Yellow Pages into a new chapter in your work life. What's next??
My experience in Yellow Pages has certainly been a springboard for what's next in my life. I feel I will always "bleed yellow" as the old expression goes. I expect to keep one foot in the industry through my with public awareness effort on behalf of independent publishers like Phone Directories Company and the industry in general as well as through the sales and manager training program I've started.
Beyond Yellow Pages, I am currently involved in my own small business in real estate, but I am looking at some possible efforts in the entertainment industry. Mr. Trump himself has told me it would a shame if I didn't pursue something in entertainment area, perhaps hosting programs that I find to have both substance in their content and are a challenge for me, as well as some fun. It may involve younger people since I really enjoy working with them. I have been gotten several opportunities from film producers but I have been holding out for something that just allows me to be Jennifer Murphy I think that will be the best fit. I will also be involved in some of the pageant and Miss Universe efforts.
YPT: With cameras around you all the time, how much of the show was real vs. made-for-TV, for example, the night Trump fired the four of you and you all piled into the back seat of a taxi??
95% of the show was real. Production did not get involved with any of the team dynamics or story lines. Of course there are a couple of times when from a logistics/technical prospective such as a car or taxi ride was setup and planned. The producers know that we would be far more interesting on our own than they could ever make it. We weren't allowed to acknowledge that there were cameras present. After a while you do tend to forget about them and do what you need to do. But certainly there were times you might act a little differently because you knew you were being filmed for national television, but for the most part, what you see on the show is reality. It is amazing the drama that can take place when you put big personalities together, type A people, very competitive people from among 100's of thousands of possible people, they are going to clash. And then with the editing it really takes the drama up to the next level and it makes it more of a story, but we were never told what to say.
YPT: Doesn't that format then quickly degrade into a blame game - search for the guilty party effort vs. the traditional work world which encourages cooperative teaming??
The nature of the show is that. It is a competition; it is not a situation where a team is working together for a common cause. It is about a group of people, very competitive people who all want to win; you have to expect some backstabbing, some looking for the other person to screw up. It's to be expected. It is not a feeling that I was use too. It was one of my biggest challenges - working in an environment where you don't feel the support of your teammates, or even the feeling that it is a true team. I came from the exact opposite. After I was selected for the show I was warned that I would need to grow some much thicker skin because this was going to be a tough change for me. And it was. I had no idea how brutal it was going to be.
YPT: How have you dealt with some of the garbage, the very negative things people have said or posted on the Internet about you??
I have a much better appreciation for how tough it is to be an elected official. While I've tried to ignore most of it, when you are in the public eye the number of people now judging you goes up greatly. Your inner circle of supporters doesn't change, just the number of those judging you. Throw in some competition and jealousy and it can get pretty nasty. I was warned about it before hand and while some of the negative stuff can be hard to take, it is very rewarding to hear about the many people you can positively impact. I'm much more focused on the people who have contacted me about how my appearance on the show has inspired or motivated them, even been a role model for them. That makes it worth while and helps me cope because the value of the positive comments far outweighs the negative comments.
YPT: Have you run into the conflict/perception that a person can only have either looks or brains, but not both??
We all have our challenges. I've had some people underestimate me before until I was able to show them what I can deliver. Going in to the entertainment industry, I think people now see me as someone that has the brains to backup the looks. Before, people were often more focused on my pageant experience and not the successful career I had in the Yellow Pages industry. But obviously the recognition that Apprentice experience provided has shifted that thinking. Looks is one thing, but you're not going to get on a show like the Apprentice if you also don't have the smarts. In many ways the looks part worked against me since originally they wanted to eliminate me due to the beauty pageant experience. But I think I again was able to take what was perceived as a negative and turn it around to be a positive, that you can be both a participant in beauty pageant and successful in competitive work environments.
YPT: You are probably best know as the Apprentice that couldn't pronounce the name of the movie "Zathura: A Space Adventure", correctly during a presentation.
In a way I'm somewhat glad I made that mistake. At the time I was mortified that it happened. But now I can really laugh about it. People wanted to be able to relate to you and know that you are human and do make mistakes. It has been a topic on every talk show and in every interview I've done. People like to laugh at it. I went to the red carpet premiere for the movie and all the reporters asked about my "blond moment". The film directors did thank me for helping them get so much publicity about the movie.
YPT: Any other major takeaways for your future career having now competed on the Apprentice show??
For me it took my confidence level in my abilities to a whole new level. If you can go head to head with someone like Donald Trump in the boardroom, forget that there are cameras rolling, that he is the real estate and business mogul that he is, you can do anything. I've learned how to work with difficult people at a level I didn't even know existed. I've learned how to work in a tough environment. I'm not sure how well I would have done going from little town in Southern Oregon to these new opportunities in LA without this stop along the way. It really helped me grow as a person. I really enjoyed the ability to work first hand in the Trump concept of think big and take risks. Mr. Trump really helped mentor me. He has been bragging about me before, during and after the show - that is a real boost.
Jennifer has over ten years experience in yellow pages sales and management, and is looking forward to continuing to share her passion and enthusiasm for the industry. Although Jennifer has many talents, her favorite aspect of business is working with people. She has a gift for finding, retaining and motivating great people. All who have worked with Jennifer are truly inspired by her positive and enthusiastic approach to business.
Jennifer's professional services include:
- Consulting and Strategic Planning
- Sales Force and Management Training
- Marketing Campaign Concept Development and/or Production
- Motivational Speaking / Corporate Event Appearances