A sign on Thomas Murphy's desk proclaimed "Bless this mess." It was misleading; Murphy was really an orderly man.
He was a lifetime GM-er who joined the company in 1938, right out of the University of Illinois. He was a bean counter, but a different kind of bean counter: He had a sense of humor. His off-the-cuff remarks were refreshing and humorous.
He became chairman and CEO of General Motors in 1974 and held the jobs until he retired in 1980. He was the first bean counter to have automotive experience before getting the top job. Albert Bradley, Frederic Donner and Richard Gerstenberg were accountants all their lives. Harlow Curtice counted a few beans, but he was best known as general manager of Buick.
Murphy was treasurer of GM and a 32-year finance staff veteran when Chairman Jim Roche summoned him in March 1970 and told him, "I want to tell you about our organizational changes." Murphy recalled, "I thought it was very nice of Jim to do that."
Roche started down the list, and suddenly he said, "Pete Estes will become group vice president for overseas, and you will replace him as group executive in charge of the car and truck divisions."