Tom Murphy, founder, chairman and CEO of Coastal Construction Group, doesn't get out to the field as often as he'd like these days. And that's a bit of a shame, for even after more than 45 years in the industry, a construction site is where he's happiest.
"I like watching sites get turned into buildings, then going back to them years later," he says. "There's nothing like seeing a good project and saying, 'We built that.'" For Murphy, good projects have helped him grow Coastal into one of Florida's busiest contractors, placing first in the state on ENR Southeast's most recent Top Contractors ranking.
There are few phases of Murphy's life where he wasn't involved with building something. As soon as he was deemed old enough, Murphy joined his contractor father chasing post-World War II government building projects across the South. By age 19, he received his general contractor's license and took on his first project—renovating his fraternity house at the University of Miami.
While it would prove to be one of the highlights of Murphy's early career, he soon decided to begin working full-time, dropping out of college and shortly thereafter starting Seaboard Construction. It proved a wise move when Seaboard eventually grew to become one of Florida's largest general contracting firms at the time, helping to reshape the built profile of South Florida in the process.
However, Murphy couldn't pass up the opportunity to sell Seaboard to Turner Construction in 1988, nor could he stay on the sidelines for long. Within a year of selling his company, Murphy was back roaming his beloved construction sites as head of his newly formed Coastal Construction Group, ready to start the process of building up a company all over again.
But while the name on Murphy's business card had changed, he was still operating under the same philosophy that was shaped during those teenage summers with his father: "It's not just business … it's personal," which stands as Coastal's motto today.
"To me, reputation is as important as anything else," Murphy explains. "We're all family down here, and we should really treat each other right."
Two numbers are of particular importance to Murphy: 75, the percentage of Coastal's work that comes from repeat clients, and zero, the number of times he's taken a client to court. Significantly, Coastal's clients include some of the biggest players in South Florida, and beyond, including Rilea Group, Related Group and Gil Dezer, developer of the Porsche Design Tower project. Also, the company has built homes for such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Dan Marino and Bob Vila of "This Old House" fame.
"We've always taken the long view of the business, not the quick buck," Murphy says, adding that Coastal's high standards for quality work also apply to the company's clients.
"We don't go out to work for everyone," he says. "Our philosophy should mean the same thing to them as it does to us." Murphy has also made sure his "old school" philosophy remains vibrant well into the 21st century.
"Regardless of how large we've become, we're still a family operation," says Dan Whiteman, Coastal Construction president and a former contractor and University of Florida professor who joined the company full-time in 1997.
Whiteman has no doubt that the Coastal Construction management model would succeed most anywhere. He recalls a consultant's peer review of Murphy that asserted that he could have a successful company operating on the moon within a month of landing.
"The report added, however, that Tom would soon be ready to leave for Mars and start another operation," Whiteman says. He notes that while that conclusion might have been made in jest, "It's about as true as anything else you can say about Tom."
ENR Southeast presented Murphy with the Legacy Award on Nov. 11 at its annual awards event. "It would have been an honor just to have been considered for the Legacy Award," Murphy stated in response.