University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 85: Andy Murray Explains Customer Centric Leadership and His Involvement With the Walton College

August 19, 2020  |  By Matt Waller

Share this via:

Andy Murray is a subject matter expert and thought leader in retail and shopper marketing. He has extensive leadership experience through senior roles as SVP of Marketing at Walmart, Chief Customer Officer of Asda UK, as well as founding several startups including ThompsonMurray, Saatchi and Saatchi X, Mercury 11, and most recently, BigQuest. BigQuest’s mission is to help teams and individuals develop a compelling quest that drives growth, professionally and personally. Andy’s own quest has taken him back to Fayetteville, Arkansas, as the Founder and Executive Chair of the Customer Centric Leadership Initiative.

Episode Transcript


00:05 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be Epic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education in your life today.


00:26 Matt Waller: With me today, Andy Murray, who is the founder and Executive Chair of the Customer Centric Leadership Initiative in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. And we are very fortunate to have him join us for this because he has an experience that is quite remarkable and relevant to the customer-centric focus. In fact, most recently, he was Chief Customer Officer at Walmart, Asda. He did that for four years, and prior to that, he was Senior Vice President of Marketing, Creative and Marketing Operations at Walmart in Bentonville. Prior to that, he founded a company called Mercury 11, and he sold it a year later. Prior to that, he was founder and CEO and Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi X, which really started out as Thompson and Murray, and he did that for about 15 years. And earlier in his career, he was with Proctor & Gamble, on the global Walmart customer team for many years. And he has a computer science degree. So thank you so much, Andy, for joining me and joining the Walton College. We really appreciate it.

01:44 Andy Murray: Oh, thank you, Matt. It's a real privilege to be connected to the university and being part of this initiative, it's something so near and dear to my heart in terms of the importance of the topic, and it kinda spans pretty much a career of thinking and working in this customer space, so I'm just really honored to be part of the initiative.

02:04 Matt Waller: It's interesting, when you think about customer-centrism, it can't be within a function. It seems like it's one of those topics that spans all functions of a business. Do you agree with that?

02:21 Andy Murray: Well, I do, and that's what makes it hard, 'cause we do much better sometimes when we define things as a single discipline or as a function and we know how to incorporate and deal with that organizationally a lot easier than sometimes something that feels more like an approach. And when you take it as an approach to business, it crosses a lot of boundaries and silos horizontally, and sometimes those disciplines are not... Those ideas of an approach aren't probably as defined in the business community in terms of how you put the interoperability together to face that customer challenge.

03:01 Matt Waller: At the same time, you think about it from a business perspective, customer-centrism seems central to business. So it's kind of interesting that... I guess the challenges for a really big company or even a small company that's growing fast, it's really hard to get everyone focused on the customer and not to get lost on rabbit trails that they're working on. But it seems like there's tools that can help, but you definitely need a leader, don't you in an organization to be able to drive that?

03:45 Andy Murray: Well, you do, and often the CEO really is the Chief Customer Officer in many ways, because they tend to get the letters from the customer, the buck stops with them when you start thinking about a customer challenge, and that's who you end up writing a lot of times, and I saw that firsthand at Asda. Even with the title I had of Chief Customer Officer, Roger Burnley, our CEO, would tend to get 10 times as many customer letters because that's who the customer thinks of. And so you can't deny the fact the CEO really is, at some level, the owner of that total customer relationship. But, Matt, I think the change that I'm seeing is really driven by what's happening with omnichannel and looking at a customer in a different way, and instead of looking at it just as a values-based idea that your customer's number one, and something that's philosophical, it's becoming something that has a transactional face to it, in terms of how do you show end-to-end customer experience and journey.

04:45 Andy Murray: And a lot of retailers especially would have an e-commerce site that might manage that customer interaction one way with an e-commerce team, that's completely different organization, if you will, than the brick and mortar teams, and actually different ways of going at their business. And in the dot-com space, or the e-commerce end, you'll have product management as a discipline that's building out user stories and connecting those stories together and the customer journey is everything. But in a typical brick and mortar operation, that area of designing a user experience using that same project management focus, it doesn't tend to work the same way, so you get this collision. And now as we really see COVID expand and accelerate the seamless shopping experience of online and brick and mortar, trying to marry up that customer journey and customer experience in the same way, is really challenging and it's been accelerated.

05:45 Andy Murray: And then the last thing I'd say on that is that the customer journey mapping is starting to happen in more and more companies, but like you said, you can go down a lot of rabbit holes, and once you start mapping a customer journey and you realize no customer journey is the same and they're not always that linear, and the complexity of that gets so overwhelming that it's hard to not go down a few rabbit holes to do that. And so, that's where I think some of the pieces have been missing, is how do you take a customer journey and really find those touchpoints that will make a difference to the organizational performance. And one of the things we found is that if you can focus on household factors and reduce friction in that customer journey, you'll get such a bigger payout than focusing on adding a new experience that might be interesting and fun and shiny object, but it could end up being a rabbit hole or a distraction. So there's a lot of gold in removing dissatisfiers out of that customer journey in order to improve the experience.

06:45 Matt Waller: That's really interesting. I'd like to back up just for a moment. You have been a tremendously successful entrepreneur. But you've also worked for the largest company in the world, so you've had both extremes, and I wanna talk about that. But before I do, I wanna talk about how your journey with the Walton College started 22 years ago. And now that you've retired from Walmart, you're back in Northwest Arkansas and you're getting involved with us again. But tell the story about how you got involved with Walton college in the first place.

07:26 Andy Murray: Well, it's a fun and exciting story for me personally, because it goes back to the very beginning of when I started a business, and I had this dream to build a company from scratch. I always wanted to follow up on that entrepreneurial spirit and thing that you wanna do. And at 33, if you don't take that step sometimes, then you get so locked into life that it never happens, and so it was a time to do that. And we had sold the house, sold the furniture. My wife said I couldn't sell the kids, so we had to stay with that. [chuckle] But basically from a kitchen table, I started an agency idea that was really verily very early in thinking of what I wanted it to become. And I opened up the paper the first day on the job and read into the Democrat-Gazette about the story of the Walton family giving a gift to the university. And 50 million of that gift went to the college of business, and it wasn't called the Walton College of Business, but it just kept referring to the college that got the gift. And I thought, "Well, this is a real opportunity."

08:37 Andy Murray: So I cold called Dr. Doyle Williams, the dean of the business school at the time. I don't know how I got through, but I did, and he graciously took the call, and I congratulated him on getting the gift. And I said, "Now is the moment where we can really take this opportunity and become more like the Wharton School or the Kellogg School versus the school that got the gift," because it was the largest gift to a public college. And I said, "I can help you with that." And he said, "Who are you again?"


09:07 Andy Murray: And so we worked through that, but he kindly invited me down. And my very first project in starting a business in my entrepreneurial career was with the college of business, to brand it and go through a branding exercise. And I got to meet with several faculty, and we spent six months just talking about what does it mean to be this college and what can it be. And I think some of the remnants of that work are still around today. And I think when I was in the UK, you became the dean then in that time period. And so, when I came back, I said, "The first thing I've got to do is call Matt Waller and just see what's going on with the college, because it's really been an incredible journey to see what you guys have done, not only with the brand, it became number one in supply chain. And so if we can continue to do that in this area of the connected customer, I think there's some real opportunity to see that mature."

09:58 Matt Waller: Well, Andy, you have a degree in computer science, and it seems like you fairly quickly got into marketing. How did that transition occur?

10:08 Andy Murray: Well, now it's in vogue to have that background, and so I'm free to talk about it where for some period of time being in the creative space, in a marketing space, if you were to say you had a computer science background, you would be fixing people's iPhone connections and things of that nature. But back in '91, '92 in a Procter-&-Gamble world, brand management and marketing, it wasn't really a tech-centric space, so it was just a leap of faith that this is something I could learn. And so I had an interim step between Procter & Gamble to this full-on marketing of three years at DaySpring Cards as a VP of Marketing and Creative, and it really just ignited all the elements of what made me come alive as a person to see those elements work. Now, today, fast-forward, technology is such an important part, and I find myself often referring back to the first 10 years of my career of the things I learned in tech. And clearly, I believe tech is a very creative space if you're developing programming and creating user interfaces from scratch. It doesn't get the credit it deserves, I think, in terms of how creative you have to be in a technology sector.

11:20 Matt Waller: So then you eventually started Saatchi & Saatchi X, which was originally called Thompson & Murray, I believe.

11:27 Andy Murray: Yes.

11:28 Matt Waller: I believe you were the first company to be in this space called the shopper marketing. I think a lot of our listeners won't understand the difference between shopper marketing and marketing. Would you mind explaining that?

11:42 Andy Murray: Sure, back in the early days, mid, late '90s, Procter & Gamble and many big CPG companies were starting to look at the store space. And Walmart, as an example, was getting 100 million eyeballs a week through the stores. That's more than any media channel could pull together in terms of ratings. And the conversation started around what would it look like if you treated that space as a media channel, and put the same discipline and measurement and thinking behind how do you connect to those shoppers. And that store space became a much more important place to reach people and reach customers than some of the media choices being used in a pure marketing perspective. And in marketing, the store and that customer journey were seen more as a promotional space, more tactical. And we hired very early on, PhD in clinical psychology to look at how shoppers think and look at purchase barriers. And the key difference is we're looking at some of the marketing techniques of how do you engage people emotionally, as you would in a traditional marketing discipline, but then connecting with them in those path, the purchase moments that can decide.

13:00 Andy Murray: No matter how much marketing you spend in your brand, if a customer only spends three seconds in front of your category before making a decision, that's where that moment of truth was really gonna be fought and won or not. And so elements like package design, display, engagement, communication, all those things became a collection of competencies that created a new approach to go to market with your brand and help win that first moment of truth through the store environment. And so that was the beginning of it, and it became such a powerful concept then in producing results that we quickly grew from Northwest Arkansas to 22 offices all around the world in growing the idea that you can connect with shoppers differently than we might have done it in the past.

13:51 Matt Waller: So you not only started the company, but you really were a pioneer in a new industry. But prior to that, you'd been working for a large company, Procter & Gamble. I know you were at DaySpring, which was a medium-sized company. And then you started your own business and then you started another business, Mercury 11, and sold it a year later, and then you went to work for the biggest company in the world. That's a big transition. [chuckle]

14:17 Andy Murray: Well, yeah, it's hard to explain how life unfolds sometimes. Some people think it's a puzzle and you just gotta figure it out. I hear a lot of the young... What's young today? So I have 27-year-olds come to my office and say, "I'm not sure I wanna do shopper marketing for the rest of my life. I'm not sure what my purpose is." And there is a whole line of thinking that your career is involved and emerged based on... You figure out this where you wanna end up, and then it ends up being like a puzzle. And the first thing you do in a puzzle is you look for the edges, you look for the corners, 'cause that's the easiest place to start, and you spend the rest of your career trying to put in the pieces. I've never find it to work that way, as you just described. It's much more like a mosaic. And I think when you build a mosaic, you find those core centerpieces, the edges are always fuzzy, and you get the next thing in and you look at it and say, "How does this fit?" And it builds and it unfolds. It may not be till the end of your career, but hopefully this isn't the end of my career, but all of a sudden the tapestry emerges, a mosaic of connections and pieces that you wouldn't have imagined and you couldn't have architected.

15:27 Andy Murray: When you think that way, I think you look at the moment you're in and say, "I'm gonna be all in in this moment." And then you start seeing how things might connect. How I got to Walmart? I had been part of the Center for Retailing and worked that for 10 years. And when I was working in Mercury 11, I kinda stepped out to do something brand new. And I got a phone call from Claudia Mobley saying the keynote speaker couldn't make it with two days notice, and you've got 800 to a thousand people coming. And she said, "Can you speak?" And I'm thinking, "Well, man, I haven't been up to speed on the current supplier retail space that much. I was in a tech world." So I just took 10 note cards and wrote down what every sales supplier might need to know about technology that I just discovered working in a room full of 24-year-old engineers and gave that talk. And little did I know, Stephen Quinn, the CMO of Walmart, was in the front row and called me a few days later and said, "Hey, would you like to come to Walmart and do some of the things you've been doing with digital and marketing and creative?" That's where that took off, but if it wasn't for just saying yes to Claudia and what she needed done at that time in that moment and taking that risk, it wouldn't have happened.

16:42 Matt Waller: Yeah, it has moved quickly. Of course, you had a vision for it, which makes a big difference. And so of course, you stayed at Walmart for quite a while, and then Walmart Asda for several years. Your career is quite remarkable and what you've accomplished, so we're very fortunate to have you engaged with us, so thank you. I would like to back up a second. Based on your foundation and we're in this time where the digitization of everything has been sped up, COVID sped it up, unequivocally, there's people using technology today that never dreamed they'd be using, Zoom. Setting up their own webinars to communicate with people in their organization or customers. Learning how to set up technology at their home, so they can be effective. Using new software solutions that they've never had to use before. So we've got this huge base of people that all of a sudden have found a way to be effective working remotely. And at the same time because of COVID, you have a situation where people are using... Some people don't wanna go into the grocery store, or they don't wanna go in very much and so they use grocery pick-up, or they use delivery to their home.

18:21 Matt Waller: And I know Walmart, of course, was a pioneer, is a pioneer in grocery pick-up, and this really sped them up because all of a sudden they had to increase their capacity in pick-up to a level that had never been imagined. But I guess my point is, the world's changing so quickly. We've been talking about omnichannel for years, but it sped up. Omnichannel is retail. E-commerce and brick and mortar are smack-dab together now. So I think the time for this kind of initiative that you're heading up for us, bringing in thought leadership is really important for our students, especially, because if our students come out having more of an understanding of this phenomena and how it affects business, it will give them an advantage whether or not they go to work for an established company or they start their own business or they work for a growth company. But I'm wondering from your perspective now, what types of areas would be in the scope of what you might be looking at as the Walton College's executive Chair of the Customer Centric Leadership?

19:44 Andy Murray: Well, Matt, it's a great question. And it's from a scope standpoint, the scope really came together for me in terms of my last four years at Asda as a Chief Customer Officer. And I don't know if you know this or not, but there's a lot of companies that have thought about chief customer, but they haven't really made that move yet. And in the UK, it's more common, perhaps to see that than a traditional CMO role. And it's an emerging space where we're seeing more and more companies think so intentional about the customer, and what does it mean to connect those dots, that they're creating this role at the exec level in order to shape and pull it together.

20:25 Andy Murray: It's the first time I've taken on a role like that. And the breadth of it really does require you to have conversations that cross, what should our call center guidelines be? And how do you talk to customers? So that typically doesn't come into the scope of the CMO. And lots of conversation around technology, in terms of, we mentioned a lot of the apps and things that can be developed today that consumers are using, that really change their experience and their expectations. You're getting a lot of conversations with the technology officer around where can the customer fit in the tech stack, in the roadmap, and how does that compete against e-commerce?

21:03 Andy Murray: And then you're into conversations around media. 50% of the paid media in the US is gonna be in Facebook, Google, certain set of platforms, what you're hearing about today in terms of Facebook, and some of the challenges that they're having in the month of July with boycotts. So you get into conversations around, what should our policies be? What do our customers think? How do you connect to customers in this media space, when you don't own those platforms?

21:33 Andy Murray: So there's been quite a bit of push for getting your own customer data as a brand or as a retailer, and be able to have an addressable customer base that you can talk to very directly. While historically, that's usually a high-cost venture that takes time to build, and in a low-cost model, that's not an easy thing to rationalize and justify in terms of how does that work. But in addition to that, you have GDPR, and other rules around customer data now just emerging. So that's not gonna be a walk in the park in terms of figuring out what should be your customer data policy and how do you respectfully build that brand conversation and interaction across the customer through customer data? How do you reach them from a media side?

22:18 Andy Murray: And these are starting to get interconnected conversations that from an academic standpoint, what I'm excited about is I think this is a real opportunity for academia, for Walton College of Business to start integrating these cross-departmental conversations, because it's starting to show up in the business community as a more integrated set of conversations than they've been in the past. And there's not a lot of resource out there. Not a lot of places you can go to get answers, that starts to pull together the right pieces. Do you really wanna get into customer journey mapping, if you don't know how to prioritize what you're going after? Because of the number of places you could spend your time trying to improve something that may not pay out in terms of what the customer is looking for. So the timing couldn't be better because of the changes in media technology. We're looking at algorithms and how does AI change the customer experience when you look at fairness, and when you look at biases that are inherent, and sometimes in big data, you want to be able to sort those out.

23:24 Andy Murray: So a lot of good connection with what Cindy Moehring's doing on business ethics and integrity, because you do see these conversations cross. And so I'm excited about pulling that scope together to give us a bigger platform to work cross-departmentally in the university, and prepare students. Because I would never would have told a student probably 10 years ago, "If you wanna get to CMO, you need to make a stop in the customer service department. And really look at how customers think and talk to your brand," that probably wouldn't have been on their career path. But I think in today's world of a chief customer, those become really rich. And I think what's helped me most actually is having a very diverse career, but people don't set out to have those kind of careers, they just kind of happen to you. And so if we can inform a student base of some of the choices that might be different or we can create different conversations, I think we'll produce more students that have that upward relevance all the way to the board of being able to connect the dots around that total customer world.


24:29 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEPIC podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast, and now Be Epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

Ways to Listen

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Google Podcasts
Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on iHeart Radio
Listen on Stitcher