Mike Murphy's plan to embed his Volkswagen of Oakland dealership into a mixed-use development that includes housing may be one of his final acts in the car business.
Over the past several years, Murphy, 57, has divested his other dealerships, including Nissan of Oakland and Infiniti of Oakland, which he sold last year. It's part of a pivot away from the car business and toward charity to honor his wife, Margot, who died in 2011 after a nine-year battle with breast cancer.
They met in 2000 at one of his dealerships. Margot was working for Spanish language TV network Telemundo, and came by to sell Murphy advertising. The rest, as they say, is history.
After Margot's death, Murphy started a charity called the Love From Margot Foundation, through which he pays for medical treatment for women with cancer who lack suitable health insurance. He says he has donated $550,000 to date, and handed off most day-to-day responsibilities at the VW dealership to his two sons.
"I want to keep this for my family," Murphy said, referring to Volkswagen of Oakland, which he has owned since 1996. "But for the most part, [my future] is philanthropy."
Murphy, who started out as a salesman in 1983, isn't torn up about the decision. He's falling out of love with the business. The launch of a new model used to be a party, he says; now it's all business. Salesmen used to be able to support a family on entry-level pay, but the wages have suffered and the hours are more grueling than ever.
A poster for the Love From Margot Foundation is on display in the back of his VW showroom. Once a renovation project is complete and rental income from apartments starts coming in, he'll have more to donate, General Manager Samir Rohayem said.
"We're going to make a killing on this," Rohayem said, before gesturing at the poster. "And most of [the money] is going to go right there."