Retirees' Champion

Marilyn Murphy was sitting in her Modesto, Calif., office--a converted garage--when the telephone rang in December 1991. "Marilyn, a friend of mine needs help," the voice said. The friend, a corporate manager, had been caught in his company's downsizing and was forced into retirement. He was in his late 40s. So Murphy got in her car and drove 100 miles to Fresno, Calif., to meet the man.That minute

Marilyn Murphy was sitting in her Modesto, Calif., office--a converted garage--when the telephone rang in December 1991. "Marilyn, a friend of mine needs help," the voice said. The friend, a corporate manager, had been caught in his company's downsizing and was forced into retirement. He was in his late 40s. So Murphy got in her car and drove 100 miles to Fresno, Calif., to meet the man.

That minute Murphy's career was completely transformed. Before the phone call, she was a relatively successful broker earning a comfortable living. After the call, she was on her way to pioneering a niche helping laid-off employees enter retirement.

After meeting with the manager to help salvage his pension fund, a thought struck Murphy like a jolt of electricity. "At that very moment, I felt corporate America was about to go through a sudden change, that a trend was developing in which companies were about to go through a downsizing process," she says. "People in their late 40s and early 50s were going to be in retirement earlier than expected. That opened up a whole new era."

So on the drive back from Fresno, Murphy decided to alter her entire business strategy, gearing it completely toward retirement. She even renamed her company, calling it MRM, which stands for Murphy Retirement Management. "It's also my initials," Marilyn Rita Murphy adds, with a laugh.

Murphy has laughed--and smiled--a lot since that day. The 61-year-old mother of five and grandmother to eight has helped hundreds of people turn their fears into relaxation of retirement.

Currently managing more than §150 million, the 31-year brokerage veteran was the top producer for the past four years at Western Reserve Life's broker/dealer, Intersecurities. Her gross production is §1.7 million.

She attributes some of her success to her personal passion for selling. It's a trait she learned she had at a relatively young age--5 years old to be exact.

"My mother was teaching me how to make pot holders one day when I was 5," Murphy says. As soon as they finished, Marilyn sneaked outside and went door to door in her neighborhood to sell her new product for 25 cents apiece. She sold her entire inventory. "Had my mother known what I was going to do, she would have killed me," she says.

Why did she choose the investment and insurance industry over other fields? "I liked the flexibility," she says. "I also felt it was an industry that I could approach with an entrepreneurial outlook."

Her keys to success: "One, defining the market," she says. "Two, staying focused on that market, and three, developing a system that makes it work."

Even though a corporate manager was Murphy's initial client in her newly defined market, she actually decided she wanted to target blue-collar workers in their late 40s because "they had less money and needed to be more educated on their options," she says.

So with the help of marketing and public relations experts, Murphy put together a series of seminars. Her brochure, which included charts, diagrams and a tape, was given to customers, who in turn gave it to friends at their companies.

The result has benefited everyone. "Clients have more money in their accounts than what they started with--and that's after taking out their monthly payments," says Murphy, who has 1,200 customers. "I can't express what a wonderful feeling it is to know your clients sleep well at night and have no worries about their future."

Murphy's own future includes semi-retirement. Last year and this, she will work only six months. Next year, she intends to work only three. The drawback: Her days leading the company in sales are likely over. "I doubt I can do it after working just three months."

Years in Business: 31

Product Mix: 75% variable annuities, 10% life insurance and 15% mutual funds.

Staff: Two assistants, a marketing director and a new business manager.

How She Started Building Business: By establishing a niche in retirement investing for employees in businesses that are downsizing.

How She Builds Business Now: All prospects come from referrals. "We haven't done any prospecting in years."

Key Lesson Learned: "I've always cared immensely about my clients. I've always taken a strong interest in their lives. I've celebrated with them in joyous times and mourned with them in difficult times."

What Clients Want Most: "They want honesty, clarity, care and trusted financial advice."

Biggest Competitive Challenge: "To prevent myself from working more than six months a year."

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