Five Questions With… Jim Murray of Western Funding

Five Questions With is a monthly Q&A segment on AutoFinanceExcellence.org that offers a glimpse of what senior industry executives are thinking about outside the boardroom. Read on to find out.

Jim Murray has led Western Funding Inc. since September 2017.

He came to Las Vegas-based Western Funding with two decades of specialty finance experience in both the consumer auto and commercial small business lending sectors. Prior to joining Western Funding, a subsidiary of Westlake Financial Services, Murray served in roles at Credit Acceptance Corp. and Ford Motor Co., where he began his career working in corporate finance.

Before entering the industry in 1996, Murray served four years as a Naval Officer for the U.S. Navy — an experience that catapulted his operational leadership abilities. 

“Everything I learned from [the Navy] was applicable in the business world,” he said. “When I left the Navy to go back to graduate business school, I was in orientation and all these people were talking about their business experience, and I felt way behind. What I figured out pretty quickly was that I was way ahead because of my experiences in the Navy. I had experienced things no one else has. I’m proud of it.”

With an extended tenure in the auto finance industry and a military background, Murray has plenty of business and lifelong knowledge to share.  Auto Finance Excellence asked Murray five questions to find out what his company goals are, advice that helped him earn top management roles, and a surprising fact that his colleagues would never suspect.

Auto Finance Excellence: What are your company goals in 10 words or less?

Jim Murray: The 10 words or less part is an interesting constraint. As I thought about it, I started with as few words as possible and landed on the following:

Grow profitably with high employee engagement.

AFE: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?

JM: I’ve received a lot, but my absolute favorite is: ‘Listen more than you talk.’ For me, I didn’t immediately understand the power of this advice. One of the things that has been true in my life is — I have a special needs child, and from that, I learned patience and I learned the power of listening and really started to embrace it later than I should’ve, but it’s just so true.

There’s always more than one side to every story, and if you are sitting there concocting your response to whatever someone is telling you, you’re really not listening. Listening has become one of my most critical tools — it’s true in life and work.

AFE: What do you think is the most underrated trend in lending practices?

JM: This one might surprise you, and I would say this is true beyond just lending — it’s the value of great execution.

What I mean by that is, everyone in the business world appears to be finding or seeking the next big home run. Maybe it is a new program or application or technology that is going to make everything better. The reality is that every organization has the power to make their performance better by just focusing on great execution. And if that means that all the employees are doing a manual process to get some end result — whether it’s reviewing loan packages or what have you, there is a way to make that great and turn that into an advantage because it’s free — everyone can do it.

It’s not flashy, and it’s easy to say: ‘I’m going to focus on the next big application or the next big program change,’ when, in fact, great execution makes a huge difference. It’s underrated because it’s not flashy, but it requires that daily grind.

AFE: What person has had the most significant influence on your career?

JM: It was a gentleman I worked with when I worked at Ford Motor Co. — and someone that I am still in touch with today who has been a tremendous mentor and adviser. He doesn’t work for Ford anymore, but he’s just a fascinating individual in terms of what he does in investing and consulting. I really learned how to think about business and how to think about making things work better — including execution. He’d say phrases like: ‘The physicals drive the financials.’ Simple statements like that are so powerful and matter.

In my career, I’ve seen how not everyone thinks like that. You have to ask yourself: ‘What do we do in the business that drove financials, and do we know what they are?’ A lot of businesses don’t. If I’m seeking advice on any matter of business or leadership or career, I’ll go to him. It’s a valuable relationship that’s been long-term. I’ve known him for over 20 years. He’s someone who will tell it to me straight.

AFE: What’s something all of your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?

JM: The reason I struggle with this one is that I am a pretty open book. For example, when I started at Western Funding — the very first day, in September 2017 — I had prepared a presentation for a mandatory [internal] event, and I spent a good amount of time going through: ‘Who is Jim Murray?’ I purposefully wanted [my employees] to get to know who I was, so they knew where I was coming from. Also some of my family situations, I have two kids, one is special needs and everyone knows that.

What no one might not know is I’ve moved 17 times in my life — which I find to be on the extreme end.

My father worked in the field salesforce at General Motors, and we moved every year or two growing up, and I was in the Navy, which caused me to move three times. My wife grew up in Michigan and has only moved with me. She grew up in one place, I was never in the same place. I have a lot of different experiences because of that.

I spent four years as a Naval Officer on two different ships, one based out of Mayport, Fla., and one based out of San Diego. I arrived on my first ship right before the Persian Gulf War right in the middle of the Persian Gulf. I was unceremoniously pushed out of a helicopter onto a ship deck, that’s how I arrived. I spent six months in the Persian Gulf in the Red Sea during that engagement and then came back to Florida. Then I went back out to sea to do operations in the Caribbean. In the Navy, you don’t want to be sitting in port, you want to be underway. That’s the mantra.

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