As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Murray.
Patrick Murray is the founder of STP and leads its activities in his dual role as President and Chief Executive Officer of the firm. It was Patrick’s vision of building a world-class, client-centric, software-driven solutions provider for investment managers’ front, middle and back office challenges that led to his creation of STP and then recruiting the balance of the global team. STP has grown tremendously under Patrick’s leadership by expanding the team, capabilities, products, and clients at an award-winning pace. Patrick continues to play an extremely active role in the development of the firm’s proprietary software geared toward generating solutions for STP’s clients.
Patrick graduated from Villanova University with a B.S. (magna cum laude) in Management Information Systems and Finance, and from Boston University (first in class) with an M.S. in Computer Information Systems and a Graduate Certificate in IT Project Management. In addition, Patrick coaches youth soccer and basketball, regularly volunteers with various church and community organizations and serves as a Board Member for the Innovative Technology Action Group (ITAG), Advisory Board Member for Tech Impact, and as an Affiliate Member of the CFA Society of Philadelphia and the CFA Institute.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us about your backstory and what led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I love creating my own path. At eight years old, I was a paperboy and in college, I built a successful SAT and math tutoring business that helped put me through school. Ultimately, it was those experiences that taught me to continue pushing forward despite adversity, imperfection, and external challenges.
I went to college at Villanova University to become a portfolio manager. Originally, I wanted to manage money, but after a few transformational internships, I discovered I enjoyed the technology side of the business — learning how systems work, how they impact operations and how they support the front office function. So I pivoted my focus, taking several computer science classes and majoring in Information Systems, while continuing my finance classes at Villanova. I met Chris Sallemi, who is our CTO today, in CompSci-101.
I’ve always thought of myself as bilingual — I can talk and interface with portfolio managers, traders, and operations folks, and I also love to get into the very detailed, technical weeds with developers. This is important because when you can relate to people, you understand their unique perspectives. I think it can be challenging for those in the technology field, even for some tremendous developers or architects, to connect with those on the business side. But that translation is critical in leadership. Being able to understand both finance and technology has helped me along my career path.
Additionally, participating in Merrill Lynch’s Technology Leadership Program was pivotal for my career. I was able to see the various aspects of the business from the front, middle, and back office and work with all different types of people with varying perspectives. This experience helped me land a role as a Chief Technology Officer.
Ultimately, though, I was driven to start my own organization because I love creating things. I love building things. I am still a big Lego guy with my kids. Sometimes it’s great to have the instructions, but we really love using the creative part of our minds to invent our own designs. And that’s a fantastic parallel to business. It’s seeing a problem and solving it in new, creative ways. That’s what really excites me and gets me up in the morning.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
My wife was pregnant with our oldest son when we received our first office shipment of supplies and furniture for the new STP office, after having just recently signed a lease that locked us in for years. Suffice to say, we had a “holy cow” moment. That’s when we realized that we were officially out on our own, having just spent tens of thousands of dollars, putting all the office supplies and furniture together. It made things real. It made us realize this had to be successful.
When people ask me “How did you get started?” I keep that moment in mind, because we didn’t go out and raise a lot of money or have tens of millions of dollars to start with. We just simply didn’t believe in failure. I always believed things would be successful, and even as bumps came along, we held fast to every little thing we needed to do to be successful, whether that meant sending an email, getting on a plane or sitting with a client to really understand their challenges.
While we don’t let fear steer the ship, recognizing that there’s a lot on the line drives our desire to be successful. It’s about believing in and visualizing success, even when the odds are stacked against us.
To illustrate this point, I’ll share a story about competing for a large RFP. At the time, we were David up against Goliath. In fact, it felt like the NCAA tournament, working our way through rounds of pitches and meetings. We were able to progress to the finals, and when game time came, the advice I received from a dear friend of mine resonated.
He said: “Look, these guys have thousands of employees. You have 30 or 40. You have to portray that you’re bigger than you are.”
So, we worked with a vendor of ours to bring some additional experts from their team and ours to the meetings to show our commitment, instill confidence, and clearly communicate the level of care and attention the client could expect from us.
We ended up winning this “tournament,” and it transformed our business; today we have over 240 employees.
The U.S. is facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I’ve always believed in inclusivity. I grew up in bands and playing team sports. And this business is a team sport. How do you make everyone on the team feel like valued contributors with opinions that matter? You must provide a safe outlet for people to share their insights and capture those perspectives.
We are passionate about supporting women in the workforce and have an active women’s networking group. We are always looking for different ways to encourage and mentor women at STP and in the community, both in the U.S. and India.
I love going to India and connecting with our people at every different level, learning about who they are, what their experience is like, and what they can bring to the table.
It’s all about embracing diversity of perspective. We aim to hire a varied group of people across different areas of the business. We’ll hire from investment managers, hedge funds, wealth managers, family offices, custodian banks, and tech-enabled service providers like STP. Having different perspectives helps us make great decisions because we can consider our challenges through multiple different lenses.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Give people a chance. I’m involved with an organization called Tech Impact that has a program called I.T. Works that teaches young local professionals about technology, provides internship opportunities and gives them the chance to elevate their careers in corporate technology roles they may otherwise not have had access to prior to the program.
There are many hard-working, gritty people out there who are working multiple jobs, going to school at night, and raising a family. Every organization can benefit from having those people in their organization because they will do whatever it takes to learn and they will do what it takes to deliver. Those are the people you want.
As leaders, we need to find the areas of society where people haven’t been given a chance, and be part of programs that work to train, support and mentor those gritty, dedicated individuals.
It’s impossible to solve all the world’s problems, but it’s important to find small, meaningful ways to contribute. Hire one intern. Share your wisdom by speaking at an event. Take action and do something; that’s what will make a difference.
In just a few words, can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
As an executive, you are the visionary person. You’re the cultural ambassador. Avoid being the Chief Everything Officer. It’s important to surround yourself with people who can lead certain areas of the business. You have to trust your leaders to focus on their respective area so that as CEO, you can focus on overall strategy for the company, on where you need to be in three to five years.
Because as you get bigger, it’s a slower ship to steer; when you’re smaller, you can pivot and be much more agile. Navigating the ship in the right direction is important because it takes time to adjust if you veer off course.
What’s the most striking difference between your actual job and what you thought it was going to be?
I’ve been a student of business my whole life, and I love studying businesses at different stages.
Growth at various stages requires different skill sets and different allocations of time. Business needs are distinctly different from zero to one million, from one to 10 million, from 10 to 50 million to 50 to the stratosphere.
This means progressing from a flat organizational structure to one that’s more hierarchical. It means many of our team members wear one or two hats now, versus the three or four or more they likely wore in our earlier stages. And it means adjusting our processes and what we spend time on. It means getting the right person in the right seat and adjusting the organizational design so it matches your company growth.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive? And what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
An executive has to enjoy managing people, running teams and being the leader. If we’re all standing around in a circle and the ball’s coming down, you have to be the person who wants to step up and grab it to the best of your ability, regardless of the outcome. As an executive, you need to be able to lead people, accomplish a vision, and layout the steps it takes to get there.
I believe, on the other side of the coin, there is what I would refer to as an artisan track; some might refer to it as a subject matter expert track. This is where you’re a master of a particular discipline or, in our world, you might be an architect or a senior developer who wants to build the best solution. Those roles are incredibly important. And sometimes I think our society diminishes the importance of those roles. There are also the people who are great at running with direction and accomplishing tasks, which is incredibly valuable as well.
To determine where you are and where you’d like to be, you have to honestly look at your skill set and evaluate what drives you and where you feel most comfortable.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? And can you share a story or example?
Creating a fantastic work culture starts with genuine authenticity. Many companies say they have an authentic culture because they know they’re supposed to, but it’s always evident that it’s not authentic. I believe in having a statement and mission behind your culture. Have fun with it. And if you want people to live your values, you need to put money behind it.
I think there’s a shift going on in our society where people are not receiving due recognition for their valuable contributions. Therefore, we have regular meetings during which people are expected to thank others for things they’ve done across teams. This exercise always makes our team feel good, as this practice comes from an authentic place. It’s about putting what you want to become into action and doing things that align with your values.
Another key component of our culture is creating a blame-free space. Everyone understands that STP is a safe environment. It’s always better to own up to our mistakes, address how we’re going to fix them, and accept it, than to place the blame on others.
As a leader, you have to think through things that are important to you, especially the behaviors you want to exude and behaviors you expect from your teammates, then constantly live, breathe, and speak about those behaviors. That’s what forming a strong culture is all about.
The other critical component of this is that you can’t hold on to rotten apples. Someone may be the most brilliant developer in the world, but if they have a negative attitude toward others on the team, then I’m not interested. If you have someone like this on your team, don’t accept it. No level of brilliance is worth the negative impact to your team.
What are the five things I wish someone told me before I started as a CEO and why? And if you can give any examples as to what those are.
- Only accept the best. There are times when you’re desperate to hire a role, but don’t settle. You must be picky. If you accept the best, you’re going to get the best for your clients.
- Understand the importance of your time. Some leaders just work in the business, and they don’t work on the business. Intentionally block your calendar to allow for time to strategize, follow up and take initiative.
- Take care of yourself. My family and I go to Montana each year to allow for reset time. It forces people to continue to run the operation and allows me to reset. Being able to extract yourself from the business so that the business can run on its own, and you can come back to it rejuvenated, is incredibly important.
- Invest, invest, invest in marketing. So many companies ignore it because they don’t understand it, but marketing has been transformational to our business. I wish I would have done it years ago. However, you need specialty marketing folks who understand who the influencers are, who the key players are, who your audience is, and who you need to talk to in order to tell your story, raise awareness and drive results.
- Another lesson is product modularization. Some people may not be able to purchase your entire package but being able to modularize products and offer people what they need first and foremost allows your client to walk before they run.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
I would say youth sports. I think people take sports way too seriously and they take the fun out of it for kids by adding pressure around playing in college and landing scholarships. One of the reasons I coach youth soccer and youth basketball is to teach not only the mechanics of the sport, but also sportsmanship, how to be a teammate, how to fail, and how to try something new. I also want to be a positive influence in kids’ lives at such an impressionable age. I’m big on believing in people and certainly kids, and sports is a great way to teach life’s most important lessons. If you believe in a kid, if you high-five them and have fun with them and push them to be the best they can be, that’s a gift. That’s something I’m passionate about and I believe can make a positive impact on kids today and throughout their lives.