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Executive Profile

The Bashful Brother
Pete Murphy quietly grows his business
and grows in respect around Duplin County

By Bill F. Hensley

Pete Murphy is one of those rare business executives who
is equally comfortable in a board room wearing an expensive business suit or wandering through a construction site wearing jeans, boots and a hard hat with a set of blueprints under his arm. He is relaxed riding in the comfort of a luxury automobile or straddled across a Harley Davidson motorcycle zipping through the countryside with the wind in his face.

He was born and raised in the rural, agricultural surroundings of Duplin County, and is a devotee of small towns. Though talented, versatile and successful — and with an impressive list of accomplishments — Murphy is quiet and unassuming with no inflated ego apparent. To those who know him best, he has never lost the revered small-town country boy qualities he inherited from his late father, Holmes Murphy, one of the county’s most affluent, successful and beloved benefactors. Since he was a teenager, Pete has been sensitive and dedicated to community needs and strongly believes the adage that “charity begins at home.”

“Dad always told me that you can’t give back to the community if you don’t have anything to give,” he recalls. “With that in mind, I have tried hard to succeed — to make something of myself — so I could offer my time, talent and money where it is needed. I like being involved with my hometown.”

To his fellow citizens around Wallace and Rose Hill, Murphy is a true chip off the block who is admired for his many contributions to the community. During his illustrious business career, he has played a vital role in establishing unique new facilities, providing countless jobs and actively supporting a number of civic, charitable, church and educational organizations without fanfare or a need for recognition.

“Pete and the Murphy family,” says state Rep. Russell Tucker of Pink Hill, a former Duplin County financial officer, “have provided outstanding leadership for our area and are greatly admired and respected for their many contributions. I don’t know what we would have done without their concern and generosity for our growth and prosperity. We are truly blessed to have a family whose primary concern is to look after their home area and those who are less fortunate.”

Pete Murphy, 57, is the youngest of the three siblings — following brother Wendell, 63, and sister Joyce Norman, 59. Along with their father, the three owned and operated Murphy Family Farms, one of the nation’s largest pork producers, until it was merged recently with Smithfield Foods of Virginia. The Murphy family is the largest single shareholder of the parent company but is not involved in business operations.

The merger enabled Pete, who served as vice chairman of the company, to take on other duties, including three major development projects in the county. In recent years he has established the highly successful River Landing, a stately 1,400-acre golf/residential development; the Mad Boar restaurant, an elegant casual and fine dining facility that has become a showplace for the county; and the Holiday Inn Express, an award-winning 70-room motel that is a star attraction in the motel chain’s nationwide system. The inn and the restaurant adjoin the River Landing site.

The three projects represent an investment of more $35 million with a possible build-out that could reach $500 million. The full-service complex is owned by the Murphy family and their children, and is located just off I-40 in Wallace, 35 miles northwest of Wilmington.

“Some people say our facilities are like an oasis in the desert to travelers along the busy interstate,” Murphy points out. “I have heard it said that we are in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not exactly accurate. Actually, we are conveniently located between Wilmington and Raleigh and near I-95. We think it’s good business to have essential service-oriented places where they are needed.”

The idea for River Landing, a residential community with a variety of recreational facilities, came as a necessity, Murphy says. “Because of expanding technology and an ever-growing business, we (Murphy Farms) had to recruit a number of specialists from large metropolitan areas,” he explains. “Our growth was phenomenal, and there was an urgent need for a place for these people to live — a prestigious, planned community that would attract them and keep them happy.”

Since its opening in 1995, River Landing has prospered. By this summer, about half of the 1,100 available home sites had been sold at an average price of $75,000; approximately 90 homes had been completed, and some 20 more were under construction. The homes range in price from $200,000 to more than $1 million, and annual sales are in the $10 million to $12 million range.

Recreational facilities at the growing development include an acclaimed 27-hole golf course designed by native son Clyde Johnston, with another nine under construction. In addition to fine golf, River Landing also offers swimming, tennis, fishing, canoeing and hiking. A spacious clubhouse will soon be built overlooking the golf course near the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River that runs through the property.

River Landing residents include active and retired families from 27 states and three foreign countries with about 30 percent of the property owners from in-state. “Basically, the East Coast has been our prime market,” Murphy says. “We are finding that a lot of families want to make a new life for themselves in the South but don’t especially care for Florida. Our location, we are told, is ideal.”

With the quick acceptance of River Landing as a quality development, Murphy looked for support facilities to augment the neighborhood. It was decided that a hotel, restaurant, and a village store/service station were needed to provide needed services and enhance marketing efforts.  

“I approached several hotel and restaurant chains,” Murphy says, “and tried to interest them in building facilities here. They told me, politely, that I had lost my mind because our location wasn’t a good market.  I have never heard ‘no’ so many times.  But I had a deep feeling that our project had much potential so I proceeded without outside investments. And I’m glad I did. I am very pleased with what has been created here, and there is more to come.”

The Holiday Inn Express and Mad Boar opened with positive reviews and have been praised for their extraordinary facilities, service and hospitality. Next on the agenda is River Village, an attractive commercial complex that will house a variety of shops, offices and medical services. “Before long, we will have a convenient village that will offer everything the resident and the traveler will need,” he says. “I’m looking forward to that because it will add another full dimension to our area.”

Currently, River Landing, the hotel and the restaurant employ approximately 250 people, with a vast majority from Duplin County. “From the outset, our purpose was to hire local people first and that has worked well,” Murphy says.

It wasn’t always apparent that Harry Daniel Murphy — who has been called Pete all his life but doesn’t know where the nickname came from — would be a recognized and admired business man who often puts in 20-hour days to get the job done.

In high school, he was an average student who was active in sports, popular, and blended in well with the crowd. But the attributes that would make him a polished business executive had not begun to surface. After graduation he enrolled in East Carolina University, anticipating a career in the family business. “College prepared me well for the business world,” he says, “and I appreciate everything it did for me. But I was an anxious rookie eagerly looking for the business challenges ahead and couldn’t wait to get started.”

Working in the family business and chasing success with his father and brother inspired the youngest sibling, and he built an enviable career record from 1969 until the company was sold in 2000. “I liked challenges, I liked to succeed, and I strived for perfection,” he says. “Fortunately, things worked out well for me.”

Throughout his career, Murphy was content to take a back seat to Wendell and play a secondary role in company affairs. “Being in the spotlight was not important to me,” he says. “My gratification came working behind the scenes and seeing results.”

But the diverse projects he took on soon thrust him into an out-front situation that he has handled with ease. “Pete is an astute businessman,” says River Landing general manager Kevin Hine. “Although his demeanor is calm and relaxed, he is totally focused, dedicated and enthusiastic about everything he undertakes. He gets the job done without a lot of fanfare.”

Other staff members agree. “Pete sets a high goal for himself and others and  keeps everyone involved on a level above the very best,” says Emily Walter. “But he is more than fair, understanding, and easy to work with.”

He’s also always been easy to get along with, praise that you know rings true when it comes from a sibling. “Pete and I have been close since we were small children and shared a room,” says brother Wendell. “That closeness has remained for over 30 years, throughout our professional careers. Business decisions were always made between my father, Pete and me. To this day Pete and I consult each other often. My life has been blessed by having him as my brother.”

Throughout his career, Murphy has maintained a simple philosophy: “I like to work hard and play hard,” he says, “and be good at both.”

His play consists of a keen interest in motorcycles and boats. “I love riding and boating. I have ridden with my wife and family all over the United States and Canada and many European countries. Riding bikes is something we all enjoy. We also love being on our boat as often as possible and enjoy the water, especially the Caribbean. Both leisure activities are relaxing and are meaningful family activities. We treasure our time together.”

Murphy is married to the former Lynn Chandler of Wallace, and the couple has two sons, Stratton, 29, a CPA who is currently working in Spain, and Marc, 27, who has just joined his father at Duplin Land Development and Duplin Hospitality. The couple also has a foster son, Nick, 30, of Raleigh, a member of the family since he was 18.

Surprisingly, the Duplin County native is not a golfer even though his River Landing course is ranked as the 22nd best in the state by the North Carolina Magazine Golf Panel. “No one in the family plays, really, although we love the game,” he says. “I guess it’s because we are so involved in business and family activities that we don’t have time.”

When Murphy isn’t astride his motorcycle touring the country or relaxing at the helm of his yacht, his outside activities are numerous and include serving as a director of Global Systems Inc., Pharmatech Solutions Inc, and BB&T in Rose Hill. But his first love is education, and he dedicates much of his time striving to improve higher education as a trustee of the James Sprunt Community College, a member of the board of visitors at East Carolina, and a trustee of Campbell University.

He is an enthusiastic scholarship donor and contributor at East Carolina, N.C. State, the University of Miami and the Ravenscroft School in Raleigh. “I have tremendous respect for Pete Murphy,” offers Ravenscroft’s Dr. Jim Ledyard. “He is a visionary who is energetic and generous, and his avid support of education has been crucial to our programs.”

“Pete and Lynn’s interest, support and generosity have enabled many of our youngsters (in Duplin County) to attend high school and college and engage in other essential activities,” Wendell says. “They have been fine, dedicated community citizens who do things quietly and without fanfare.”

Honors and accolades have been numerous for the folksy Murphy. So with his diverse background and dedication for public service, has he ever thought about politics — about following in the footsteps of his well-known brother who served as a North Carolina state senator?

“Not at all,” Pete says without hesitation. “That just isn’t what I want. I enjoy playing a low-key role out of the headlines. I don’t need to be in politics to do what I can for my hometown area and the educational institutions that do so much for our young folks. I will leave that to others.”

Murphy’s next project, which is still in the talking stages, is a possible marina, hotel and recreational facilities on a small island he has purchased in the Exumas in the Bahamas. “It could be an intriguing project, and it would give me a chance to take our family boat there,” he says, smiling.

And probably his Harley, too.

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