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IAM1846 – Retired Calvin Klein CEO Shares His Knowledge on Business, Service and Leadership

Podcast Interview with Tom Murry

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”:

This episode of the CEO Podcast features Tom Murry, the retired CEO of Calvin Klein. Throughout his 17-year term, he led the brand's growth from $2.8 billion to $8 billion. Prior to joining Calvin Klein, Tom Murry had an extensive career working with iconic fashion brands such as Tahari and Evan Piccone.

Murry shares his wisdom about business, leadership, and creating a career that serves others while being something to take pride in. He upholds a no-nonsense approach gained from working with the most recognized names in the fashion industry and business leaders.

During the episode, Murry talked about his CEO hack – his book that contains his knowledge and experiences. His CEO nugget emphasizes the importance of surrounding oneself with talented individuals and having clear goals and objectives.

When asked to define what being a CEO meant to him, he described it as a role that entailed a great deal of responsibility.

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Tom Murry Teaser 00:00

Have a vision for what you want to become and have goals and never give up because it's not going to be easy. They're going to be difficult times as there always are in any career and surround yourself with positive, strong people that have a lot of talent.

Those are really the kinds of things that I use to accomplish my objectives.

Intro 00:21

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of.

This is the I AM CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:46

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes at the beginning of this year. We're doing something a little bit different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics, or as I like to call them business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners, or what I like to call the CB nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations.

This month, we are focused on leadership, management, and coaching. When we think of leadership, management, and coaching, we often think of doing all of the things, but often it's the person that's able to build up their team, that's able to cultivate a creative and innovative culture so that people can excel and actually be their own leaders. So that's why this month we're focusing on those three big topics because they make a huge impact on the organizations that we're a part of.

Now you'll hear some of those topics this month and of course, some really great perspectives on how people are even defining leadership, which I think is extremely exciting. So sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I AM CEO podcast.

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Tom Murry, who's the retired CEO of Calvin Klein. Tom, it is awesome to have you on the show.

Tom Murry 02:07

It's my pleasure. Thank you.

Gresham Harkless 02:08

No problem. What I want to do is just read a little bit more about Tom. So you hear about all the awesome things that he's been able to do.

Tom Murry is a retired CEO of Calvin Klein, where he ran the company for 17 years and facilitated the brand's growth from $2.8 billion to $8 billion. Prior to that, he spent the majority of his career working for iconic fashion brands, including Tahari and Evan Piccone.

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He has worked with and learned from the most recognized names in fashion, as well as titans of the business world. With the same no-nonsense approach that he applies to fashion, Tom shares his knowledge about business, leadership and creating a career that one can be proud of and one that is of service to others.

He and his beloved junior high sweetheart, Linda Murry, recently celebrated 43 years of marriage. Congratulations. And they now reside in Palm Beach, Florida.

Tom, are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Tom Murry 03:00

Yes, I am.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:01

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. I know it's actually a little bit on your background and your bio, I wanted to hear a little bit more about what I call like your CEO story and what kind of led you to be the CEO to Calvin Klein and what you're working on today.

Tom Murry 03:12

Becoming the CEO of Calvin Klein was first of all, my dream job. It was a long journey. And from the beginning of my career, I've been in the fashion or apparel industry from since I was 15 years old. So I just stayed with it all those years.

When I had the opportunity, when I was offered the job to be CEO of Calvin Klein, I just thought it doesn't get any better than this. This is the best job that I could have.

Gresham Harkless 03:33

Yeah, absolutely. And I know you worked at different C-suite levels before you actually became the CEO. Correct. And you worked your way up?

Tom Murry 03:40

Yes, I did. I did. Tahari was seven years as president, not CEO, but the owner Elie Tahari functioned as the CEO. But I did essentially a CEO's job, and that was a seven-year stint there.

Then I was offered the job at Calvin, and I took that job and I was there for the remainder of my career until I retired.

Gresham Harkless 03:59

Okay. Awesome. I know that one of the big things that you were able to foothold and take strong leadership on was like the transition from Calvin Klein being the CEO, to the new ownership group.

Could you talk a little bit more about like, some of the things that you were able to do, especially as I know most people that start businesses, start organizations, and are CEO's, they have a certain vision for what they have for the organization. How were you able to maintain that and continue to grow the company?

Tom Murry 04:23

I was fortunate because I maintain the team that Calvin and I had hired. The creative directors and the merchandisers and all those people were already in place. And so, Calvin retired in 2003 when Phil spent using acquired Calvin Klein. And so I stayed there for, as until the 1st quarter of 2015. I maintained that team that Calvin and I had hired together throughout that entire period.

So I was surrounded by talent and we had a great working relationship, mutual trust. That was the way really that I was able to keep it on track and keep it together.

Gresham Harkless 04:58

Yeah, that makes sense. I'm sure that definitely obviously helped out with the transition as you were moving into that role. And the new ownership group coming in to be able to have those key pieces and the key team members in place probably helped out a lot.

I wanted to drill down a little bit deeper and ask you for what I call your secret sauce in this. And as I know you're working on a book and you have a book coming out. So I wanted to talk a little bit more about that and some of the things and business lessons that you've learned. How you are putting that into the book that will come out.

Tom Murry 05:23

The book is really about my life history and years as CEO of Calvin Klein. But it really starts much, much earlier than that. It starts back when I had my first good job when I was 15 years old and what I did then and how it led to being ultimately someday becoming the CEO of Calvin Klein.

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And as I said a moment ago, I've been in the apparel business my entire career. I started working in men's stores after school and during summers selling men's clothing. I just kept on going from then until I ultimately got to the Calvin Klein position.

Gresham Harkless 05:58

That makes sense. And did you find that obviously working so many years in the industry, I'm sure you have a lot of lessons that you've been able to learn when you became the CEO. Do you have these findings that some of those life lessons are background has overlap into that?

Tom Murry 06:12

Absolutely. I think that the life lessons there were, have a vision for what you want to become and, have goals and never give up because it's not gonna be easy. They're gonna be difficult times as there always are in any career. Sorround yourself with positive, strong people that have a lot of talent. Those are really the kinds of things that I use to accomplish my objectives.

Gresham Harkless 06:35

That makes sense. I did a little bit of homework and, heard a little bit more about you also were an avid wrestler as well too. Does any of that kind of overlap?

Tom Murry 06:43

I was a wrestler in high school and from one year in college at Oklahoma State University and which was the number one wrestling school in the nation. So I made a team, but I just couldn't be competitive with the rest of the wrestlers at Oklahoma State University. But I had, throughout junior high and high school, and one year in college, I learned a lot because, wrestling is physically an amazingly difficult sport. It's 32-minute periods.

But you're so exhausted at the end of that match that you literally have to sometimes crawl up the mat to get to the bench. You're always putting weight, you're always wrestling down a weight or up the weight rather to be competitive. So you always have to lose a lot of weight. And so then you're generally weak before the match. I found myself eating chocolate bars and whatever it took just to get my energy level up, to get out there and wrestle a match.

And so, it was learning that discipline. Then the other component there was the team. Even though you were out on the mat all by yourself, it was really a team sport because you wrestled the match with team members and you all had depended upon each other. So the lessons there were hard work and teamwork.

Gresham Harkless 07:52

That makes perfect sense. And I played basketball,  I did wrestling, but that was only in kind of PE from time to time. So I always appreciated how much you can learn from going through and using sports and how it has been a life lesson and also a teaching lesson for I'm sure like you as a CEO as well too.

I wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. This might be an app or a book or even talking a little bit more about your book, but it's something that would make people more effective and efficient as business owners.

Tom Murry 08:22

Well, I think my book, I hope. The objective there was to give people a tool to give young managers and any fashion industry in the apparel industry. I really hope and I believe that what I talk about in the book is applicable to any industry. I think they'll find it compelling.

Gresham Harkless 08:39

Yeah. Definitely as much success as you've had definitely, I'm sure a lot of people would love to hear your story and everything that you've done and how you've transitioned into being that CEO and how you were able to do that. So I think that's a big CEO hack.

Now I wanted to ask you for a CEO nugget, and I know you already touched on some of the things. So I wanted to ask if there is anything additional that maybe, we can hear about in your book or some golden nuggets that you might have in your book that people can learn from.

Tom Murry 09:02

I think, this answer may be a bit repetitive, but I think it's about surrounding yourself with talent and having goals and having a clear set of objectives to achieve your goals and stick with it. It takes a tremendous amount of tenacity because you're going to have successes and you're going to have failures.

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It's not a straight line growth, it's an up and down and there are mountains and there are valleys and so on and so on. But you have to have a long-term vision and you have to be tenacious to get there. And I know I was able to get there, fortunately. I think that there are some nuggets in the book that will be helpful anecdotes and things of that nature that will be helpful to the reader.

Gresham Harkless 09:43

Yeah, absolutely. And I can imagine that a lot of people will love to hear that, especially if you're looking to try to build something or create something, especially in the fashion industry, because obviously, you've been able to have a tremendous amount of success in that industry.

Now I wanted to ask you for what is my favorite question, which is the definition for what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on the show. You being the retired CEO of Calvin Klein, I wanted to ask you, how did you define being a CEO?

Tom Murry 10:09

First of all, it's a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of people depending upon you to be an effective leader and have that will assure success if it's well executed. So I think it was a burden of responsibility, but at the same time, it was very enjoyable because as I mentioned, I was really surrounded by a wonderful team of people.

But I enjoyed working with and, a lot of talent and a lot of longevity because all of the talent that I had, had been there for quite a number of years. They stayed there the entire time that I was there. So, there were very few changes in my top management teams during my entire 17-year period there and I think a lot of the reason that I was successful can be attributed to that.

Gresham Harkless 10:49

Yeah, absolutely. I always say teamwork makes a dream work. So being able to have really strong people and really strong pieces when you're trying to build something to do something great, definitely makes perfect sense.

So Tom, I truly appreciate you for taking some time out of your schedule. What I want to do is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional you want to let our readers and our listeners know, how best they can get ahold of you and get a copy of your book.

Tom Murry 11:09

The best way to get ahold of me is go to my website because my contact is Tom Murry, just go to Google and you'll see my website. I can't remember at the moment off the top of my head, but my website will tell you how to reach me and ask me questions. It has a lot of information, more current information about what I'm doing and so on. So I think I would urge anyone to go to my website.

Gresham Harkless 11:32

Absolutely. What we'll do is we'll make sure to put that link in the show notes just so that anybody can click through and get a copy of your book and reach out to you and contact you.

But again, I truly appreciate you for taking some time out of your schedule and all the awesome things that you've been able to do and being so willing to definitely not just accomplish things, but be able to pay it forward and write your book and tell us your story. So again, I appreciate you.

Tom Murry 11:52

Gresham is my pleasure. Thank you very much.

Outro 11:54

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and everywhere you listen to podcasts, subscribe and leave us a five-star rating.

Grab CEO gear at This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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