Lessons from the C-suite: Tom Murry, Calvin Klein

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When you find something you love the work seems effortless

I started out…

At the bottom, like most. Through high school and college I always maintained two jobs. Even when I was very young (in school) I had several early entrepreneurial endeavours. Not wasting any time while I was in college, I decided to start my own advertising agency. I walked right into a clothing store – Bates Brothers in Stillwater, Oklahoma – and said I would be able to put an advertising package together for them to help them promote their business. For some reason the man believed in me and hired me.

I knew this was the right career path for me when…

I was running ads for Bates Brothers. I loved clothes and working with retailers, and I loved figuring out ways to make things look desirable for marketing and selling.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way… When you find yourself doing something you absolutely love, time just passes, ideas flow freely, and the work seems almost effortless; then you have found something that is a great fit for you.

My proudest achievement…

Being able to work alongside Calvin Klein – the most brilliant, talented, devoted and beloved creative genius of our time. I will forever be grateful to have served Calvin Klein for 17 years as CEO.

My biggest mistake…

I don’t believe in mistakes. I think most experiences (even bad ones) are great teachers. Every experience I’ve had along the way has helped me learn something new. I never need to learn a lesson twice! I pay attention to every experience and do my best to learn from it.

My biggest inspiration…

I have been lucky enough to have worked with some of the most talented people in the design world – Calvin, Zack Carr, Kevin Carrigan, Malcolm Carfrae, Ulrich Grimm, Manny Chirico, Fabio Fusco, Elie Tahari... Being around such incredible creative minds inspired me every day and still inspires me.

Keeping me awake at night right now…

Not much. I don’t need much sleep, but when I do sleep I sleep well. I tend to be a glass half full type of person.

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be…

Adapting to the working styles of creatives. I think it’s the same challenge that’s always been there; cultivating creative talent takes a special skillset.

I need my HR director to…

Pull teams together with a variety of life experiences, talents and skills. I always took a holistic approach to my teams. My advice to HR directors is to pay as much attention as possible to creating a diverse environment.

It annoys me when HR…

Calls creatives ‘difficult’. I never saw creatives as difficult to manage. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to management and cultivating talent. Understanding what drives and motivates talent is key and it helps shift the perspective. Your most ‘difficult’ employees might be geniuses. It pays to listen to them.

More HRDs would become CEO if…

They truly want it. I believe anything is possible if you believe in yourself and your talents. HRDs know people well and what inspires and drives them. They are at an enormous advantage in the workplace so I don’t see why they couldn’t be CEOs if they wanted to.

What I’m reading right now…

The latest James Patterson novel. I love his books and read for entertainment and relaxation.

My top leadership tip…

Let people do their jobs. If you’ve hired the right people and trust their skills, get out of the way and let them shine.

Tom Murry is former CEO of Calvin Klein

This piece appeared in the March 2018 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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