'I don't let the tyranny of the urgent overwhelm the priority of the important'

Tom Murphy, the founder of Pamex, talks shaving oil and why he wants to be on The Late Late Show.

By Zuzia Whelan Reporter, Fora

EVERY WEEK, FORA gets inside the heads of some of Ireland’s top entrepreneurs to gain insights into what got them to the top of their trade. This week we speak to Tom Murphy, founder of Pamex. 

Tom Murphy has never been on The Late Late Show, but that doesn’t stop people asking about. 

While Murphy does his own TV commercials, he often meets people at events who say they saw him on the RTÉ show with his shaving oil, but he has to admit it wasn’t him. After more than two decades running the business, he is still holding out hope that he might get an appearance. 

After being made redundant, in 1995 Murphy founded Pamex, which specialises in distributing niche pharmaceuticals and developing its own products such as shaving oil. 

It currently employs about 20 people and recently launched a low-waste shaving oil, called De Facto, which it hopes to distribute globally within the next five years. 

In this week’s Tools of the Trade, we spoke to Murphy about his book and his early love of tennis. 

Why are you running the company?

The excitement and the fact that, to a certain extent, it was a necessity when I was made redundant nearly 25 years ago from a major pharmaceutical company. It was a challenge and I’m very competitive. 

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think? 

The guy who was known as inventing the internet, Tim Berners Lee. It makes such a difference to our business and makes connectivity to various parts of the world so easy.

He is wonderful in his thinking and the broad-mindedness in what he did. That makes such a big difference to us in business, particularly if you’re based here as we are in the West of Ireland.

The other person is Lee Iacocca. He was the general manager of Chrysler in the United States, then he was involved in Ford. He was a wonderful guy and a wonderful businessman.  

What makes you feel under pressure and how do you deal with it?

I try to make sure that I don’t let the tyranny of the urgent overwhelm the priority of the important. A lot of people lose the difference between urgent and important. 

What is the most important skill you have learned? 

Persistence. If I have something in my head I’m like a dog with a bone, I go after it. From the time I was in secondary school I was extremely lucky as I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to sell. I loved making people happy by giving them something that they wanted.

If we can make people’s lives better by selling them something or providing them with a product that is going to improve their quality of life, that makes me very happy. 

What’s the one thing, looking back, that you wish you had done differently? 

With De Facto Shaving Oil perhaps I should have launched that five years earlier. I would have been five years younger, had more energy and might have had more fun out of it. It’s something I often think about, but then I say, to hell with it, we look to the future. 

What’s one thing you wish your employees knew about you? 

My ambition when I was younger was to turn out like someone like Roger Federer did, tennis was my life.  

What’s the biggest business risk you have ever taken?

Launching Pamex in 1995, not just for me but my family – my wife, Mary, is our financial director. 

I was on the dole, I had no job, I wondered what I would do. I sent out over 60 job applications and I got one acknowledgement.  It was a risk, we had to deal with it, we had to live. It was tough and it is still tough, but it’s enjoyable. 

Is there anything Irish businesses don’t talk about that you think they should?

The lack of support for SMEs. We mutter about it, but I think it should be up there in big bold lettering.

A big amount of the employment in this country is generated by the SME sector, not the multinationals and FDI. They (multinationals) are critical to our economy, but it’s the community that serves and wins most when you have small and medium-sized enterprises within those communities.

It’s something we don’t shout about often enough. Someone said to me recently that SMEs are the GAA in suits. 

What ambitions do you still have?

I still want to be on the Late Late Show. If I had a euro for every time people told me that they saw me on The Late Late Show with our shaving oil, I would be an extremely wealthy man. It’s an urban myth.

I often meet people at business and social events and they claim they saw me on it, but whoever it was, it wasn’t me. So much so that when we were 20 years in business, I wrote a book called It Never Started on the Late Late Show. 

The second ambition I have is I want to make De Facto shaving oil a global brand within five years. We launched the product 12 months ago and it’s exceeding our expectations. We’ve had contacts from Australia, the US and Canada so far with companies looking to take the product and be our distributors. 

People see it as a good story. We’re a family company, we own the brand, we have the trademark registered practically all over the world. 

Aside from your own, what industry do you find most interesting and why?

The media, I think they play a wonderful role in the world of business, politics and general news.

I have it in my family as well, my brother Michael Murphy was one of RTÉ’s best-known newscasters. I also do my own radio and TV commercials, which is pretty unusual for people in my position to do that. This product is very personal to me.  

What book would you most recommend?

Any book by Lee Iacocca. Another literary masterpiece, apart from It Never Started on the Late Late Show, is James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

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