No. 1 Must-Have: A good handbag.
For Virginia Murphy, CEO of Waste Water Industrial Solutions, her relationships with her community are the top priority.
Growing up watching her mother own and operate a service station in the 1970s, Murphy learned that helping the community was just how business was done. “I’m raised in that environment where I see her supporting the people in our community by saying, ‘Hey, you need a job? Come on over.’”
Murphy has continued her mother’s legacy by being a staunch advocate for her employees.
Murphy’s nominator, Angela Gardner, the director of business development and marketing for Hill Electric, said this is one of the first things that stuck out to her about Murphy. “I first noticed Virginia on LinkedIn. I saw how she always highlighted the people in her company. This is incredibly rare in construction,” Gardner said. “She makes sure she celebrates the wins with her team, and she makes sure they understand how to grow from opportunities and challenges.”
Murphy’s heart wasn’t always in construction, however. With an undergraduate degree in accounting and a master’s in education, Murphy was between accounting jobs when she was approached by a friend who needed help at their metal fabrication company. She, of course, jumped at the chance to help a friend and try something new.
Time passed and she eventually ended up at Industrial Metal & Mechanical as the vice president of operations, where she improved processes to streamline production. Once she noticed how much of an overlap there was between metal fabrication and wastewater, she began pulling her team into more and more wastewater projects. “I tell people all the time, ‘Where miscellaneous metals end is where wastewater treatment begins.’ So, it’s nothing but a bunch of trusses, a bunch of beams, a bunch of all different types of parts. You put them together and you just make them move,” Murphy said.
Eventually, Murphy left that role and was contacted by a woman from the Peachtree City Water Authority who wanted her to fix the water authority’s clarifiers. “And that’s how my business started. She had trusted me.”
Now, as the CEO of Waste Water Industrial Solutions, Murphy and her team design, fabricate and install aboveground wastewater equipment, as well as conduct structural steel fabrication and installation and blasting and painting. “It’s usually a shock to everybody when they see me. I’m five-foot-four. I’m not a big lady,” Murphy said. “I’m a lady and I’m a woman of color. So, when I walk into a room, there’s typically not any women there. And there’s definitely not any women of color.”
Murphy discussed how being a member of two of the most underrepresented groups in construction has impacted her career and interactions. “It’s very difficult to walk into a room and the first question they ask you is not your name but, ‘Are you certified?’” Murphy said. “I’m accustomed to not being invited to the party, but I go anyway. I show up uninvited, and I make people tell me why they won’t use me.”
She also explained the extra pressure that falls on her, and others in her shoes, to prove herself as a representative for both her gender and race. “If I do a bad job: ‘See how these women don’t work well?’ If a man does a job and they don’t do it well, they don’t become the spokesman for all men,” Murphy said. “It is a tough burden to carry. I don’t mind if it’s going to help open some doors for us. I’m fine with that, but I wish that weren’t the case.”
However, Murphy is doing her best to lift others in marginalized groups as best she can. “I make it my business to seek women out in a room.” Murphy has an email list where she shares upcoming events, meetings or other resources for women, and is certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Murphy also mentors a few women and advises that others in the industry find similar resources. “You need some support. So, I would say find your assistance circle.”
This philosophy extends to her own team, who Murphy treats more like family. “When they get a new girlfriend, I know about it. When the baby’s on the way, I know about it. When they have a problem, I’m the one they call; most of them call me ‘Mom.’ I respect them to the utmost — I am in this business for them. I wake up and get up and do what I do every day for them, not for me.”
Like her mother before her, Murphy has made her community a central tenet to her business practices. “I need to make sure all my guys get paid, that all my guys have everything they need. What would I look like as a CEO of a company, and one of my people was homeless or couldn’t pay their light bills? What kind of person would that make me? The unfortunate thing is, anytime there’s so much money involved, people tend forget about their fellow man. And I absolutely refuse to do that.”