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After 25 years working in the Newfoundland and Labrador education system as a teacher, principal and senior manager with the school district, Susan Murray went back to school in 2012 to study for a doctorate in business.
“It’s a big world out there and I just wanted to be able to build my capacity and my confidence,” she said. “Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, I don’t know.”
In May 2014 she founded Clearpath Leadership, a consulting business that looks to help leaders of industry, organizations and governments build productive workplaces. She spends her time in places all over the world, though downtown St. John’s is where she lives.
“In 2016 … I went to the U.A.E. (United Arab Emirates),” Murray said. “I’ve been working (there) off and on since then.”
Murray facilitates the excellence program for the U.A.E.’s prime minister’s office.
“They are so intent on growing, on being the best, on being at the top of the pack in terms of competitiveness,” Murray says. “That makes for an intense workplace.”
While sitting over a hot americano, Murray describes what the concept of excellence means in the business world.
She says it is about assessing how well a business is doing with all the resources it has, by addressing questions about where a company or organization is, where it is going and how it can get there.
“How are we wisely using the people and resources we have?” Murray says.
Part of that process is addressing how to create a happy workplace for employees, Murray says.
Although the people she leads in the U.A.E. have dubbed her "Doctor Overlord," it’s clear they mean it only in jest.
“They tried to come up with a nicer name because I try to be very nice,” Murray said. “But we get the work done, and so, you know, if the shoe fits.”
When Murray isn’t flying around the world to consult and advise some of the world’s most powerful people, she serves as chair of Kids Eat Smart, a charity that provides nutrition programs for schoolchildren. She also works with G(irls) 20 as a coach to young women, preparing them to serve on boards and to develop their leadership skills. As well, she is an adjunct professor at Memorial University.
1. What is your full name?
Susan Elizabeth Murray.
2. Where and when were you born?
I was born in Jerseyside, Placentia, in 1967.
3. Where do you live today?
I live in St. John’s.
4. What is your favourite place in the world?
Looking out of my bedroom window in Jerseyside is probably still my favourite place in the world. There’s a sense of peace. I literally grew up on a beach, and so, even wherever I am in the world — which seems to be a lot of places over the past couple of years — if I can find a body of water and just stand on a beach for a little bit, it brings me home. The smell of that saltwater, that grounds me.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
I love Adam Grant's work. He’s a professor at Wharton School of Business. (And) Nouman Ashraf is a dear friend of mine. He’s based at the Rotman School of Management and is brilliant.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Outside of Newfoundland, people would be surprised to know that I’m a musician and that I love to sing. I tend to not wear that hat when I’m travelling. I’m the very serious doctor overlord, as they call me, but I love to sing. (For people who know me) I don’t know, I tend to be an open book. (But) for someone who loves water as much as I do, that I get severely seasick.
7. What’s been your favourite year and why?
In 1996 my son was born, so, as a mom, that was phenomenal. (And) I would say 2016. I finished my doctorate, I started working in the U.A.E., I started doing all the things that I’m doing now, so it was a real pivot year for me in terms of stepping out from where I was.
8. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
(In 2012) I had applied on a job and I didn’t get it. For me, it made me think I wanted to do something different. I was upset that I didn’t get it. Not that someone else got it, but that I didn’t get it. It opened my eyes to (the fact) there’s a big world out there and there’s more possibilities, versus just staying on this career path. All the sudden, getting the wind knocked out of your sails (made me think), do I continue to grow where I am and continue to face some obstacles or do I start to expand my horizons and do something different? That’s where bold steps started. That’s my mantra. So when someone from China phones and says, can you do this, or when the PMO’s office from Dubai says, can you come over, I say, yeah.
9. What is your greatest indulgence?
Good coffee. A good solid americano. If I have to, I can do the (gas station) coffee, but the reality is it’s my vice. Listen, it’s all good. Six o’clock in the morning and you have to go down to the Burin Peninsula — bring it.
10. What is your favourite movie or book?
One of my favourite books is actually a movie again now, "Little Women." I loved it. I can’t wait to see the movie. I actually went to buy the book again so I can read it before. My favourite movie — "Grease." (It’s) closely followed by "Die Hard." (I like) a good action movie.
11. How do you like to relax?
I like to just sit down, a little bit of music on, a good book, a good cup of coffee.
12. What are you reading or watching right now?
Several things. Jeremy Charles' book "Wildness," partly because I have a dinner party on Saturday night that I want to do one of his desserts for. But I’m fascinated by his journey and I am a big foodie, so just to take a deep dive into his views and his writing. "Give and Take" by Adam Grant. I try to stay really current in my leadership reading because of the work that I do. I’m an adjunct professor at Memorial, so you have to stay current in that.
13. What is your greatest fear?
Snakes. To be in a pit, or even one snake coming in front of me, anything else I’d face. I was hiking in Arizona back in September and I heard one. You want to see someone run? I’m petrified of snakes.
14. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
It’s changed. I was your classic suit person when I was with the school district. You know, the whole suit, skirt, heels and stuff. But I guess, again, mid-life crisis. I do like a good jacket. I’m more of a casual, tailored look. I love a little bit of glam, if need be. But for the most part it’s pretty simple. Simple — but expensive. (If) my sisters read (simple), they’ll go, yeah, nice try, Susan.
15. What is your most treasured possession?
I’m not that materialistic. I’m thinking about what’s around my house. If our house burned down, as long as I had everybody out, I’d be fine.
16. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
I’m grateful to my mom for my sense of fashion and drive. I’m grateful to my dad for my personality, for my calmness and my philanthropy, my ability to give. Both of them instilled that in us, but my dad was super charming and everyone loved him and I think I inherited some of that. So, the ability to be a people person. That serves me well.
17. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
The Queen, for one. I think she’s underrated. To really sit and have dinner with her and kind of pick her brain, if you could. She’s a strong woman. The prime minister of the U.A.E. I get to see him in action, but he does some fascinating work and I’d like to see him and the Queen at the same table. And who would I add for fun? Elvis.
So, the ruler of the U.A.E., the Queen and Elvis. I think that’d be a fun dinner.
18. What is your best quality?
My patience. I am the eternal diplomat. Maybe that’s why I do what I do now. I don’t get frazzled. Yes, my nickname is Doctor Overlord sometimes, but it’s done calmly. I’m never going to yell, I’m never going to lose my cool.
19. What is your worst quality?
I can be too nice and, if you read Adam Grant’s book, you see that people sometimes tend to walk over the givers. And so I’m conscious of that. Sometimes you can give too much, to your own detriment.
20. What’s your biggest regret?
Nothing major. I wish maybe when I was younger I had travelled more. I encourage anyone starting out now to experience the world, to see it, because it’s a phenomenal world. To experience other cultures, other people is the best education ever. If there was a regret, it’s that I didn’t do enough of that when I was younger, but I’m doing it now.