This Watertown entrepreneur is like a chameleon.
Since landing a job as an assistant professor of business at Jefferson Community College in 2005, Brian H. Murray, 43, has taught students practical skills needed to launch small businesses on the one hand and bought some of the most lucrative downtown commercial buildings as a real estate investor on the other.
The range of commercial buildings he has acquired since moving here from Arlington, Va., in 2004 shows that he is busy working when outside the classroom. He owns the former Agricultural Insurance Co. building, Top of the Square Plaza, Palmer Street Apartments, College Heights Apartments and Freedom Plaza in Evans Mills. This summer, he purchased the first floor of the City Center Plaza building on Arsenal Street.
Mr. Murray, who teaches business and entrepreneurship courses at JCC, said his career combination as a professor and investor took him a couple of decades of soul-searching to finally pin down. Although corporate life sharpened his business acumen, he said, the years he spent as an executive earning a six-figure salary taught him that he wasnt cut out for the job. Grappling with the demands of 70-hour work weeks and travel assignments stole valuable time from his family and personal hobbies.
I didnt think I was willing to make the sacrifices the corporate life wants to extract from someone, Mr. Murray said. My son and daughter were young at the time, and I wasnt happy with my work-life balance. The demands of the job affected both my health and family life I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now. When you work so hard for others, at some point you realize you might not be worth the price tag.
So Mr. Murray, who had worked with Fortune 500 companies for five years as the vice president of client services at a web technology company, Cyveillance, left his job and moved into a log home in the Adirondacks he had built in 2003.
He soon landed his professorship at JCC and moved to Watertown selling his house in the Adirondacks for a profit. While teaming up with the business faculty, he launched an entrepreneurship course during his first year and became the business department chairman.
It took him about six months to get the lay of the land in Watertown before he leased the former Agriculture Insurance building at 215 Washington St., a purchase he closed on in 2007. He launched a commercial investment firm in 2006, Washington Street Properties LLC, and set up an office in the basement. After buying more property, he hired two employees at the firm: property manager Tricia G. Layton who is also his girlfriend and superintendent John E. Einbeck.
Mr. Murray, who earned his MBA from the University of Virginia in 1998, said his business background prepared him to become a trailblazer in Watertown.
The seeds were already planted in real estate before I got here, he said. When I was in Virginia I purchased a town home, made some modifications and flipped it for a profit.
Mr. Murrays balancing act of being a professor and investor is a challenge that requires self-discipline every day. He teaches five courses each semester at JCC, balancing that schedule with his lively workload as a commercial investor and landlord of two apartment complexes.
Students take advantage of Mr. Murrays firsthand experience starting businesses. He offers practical guidance on how to take action that students cant glean from textbooks.
The experience I gain through my business is absolutely priceless in the classroom, he said. Students really value the real-world experience. I meet with students in and out of the classroom to help them start small businesses. It helps students to know the agencies they can turn to for help.
In his entrepreneurship class, he talks with students about the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Not every student is cut out to be an entrepreneur, because success frequently comes only after overcoming setbacks and failures.
You need to have a high level of determination and be comfortable with a high level of ambiguity, Mr. Murray said, explaining that solutions to problems can be murky. You have to have tenacity despite failure. Some people are more comfortable with security, and I (also) consider it a success if students change their minds and dont go into business.
By harnessing ones motivation, he said, anyone can carve a career path.
I changed directions in my career quite a few times, he said. Its not a straight-line path that I took.
For Mr. Murray, the most gratifying part of entrepreneurship is starting and finishing a project. Last year, he renovated 20 of the 30 apartment units at College Heights and installed new roofs, for example, which increased the propertys value.
I look to purchase buildings with absentee landlords that need maintenance, he said.
One of the overlooked charms of being an entrepreneur, he tells his students, is the control one has to balance the professional and personal sides of life. While his busy career requires long hours and self-imposed discipline, he now has control over how he uses his time something nonexistent in the corporate world of his past. Although, he laughs, students might not share his habit of running marathons to stay fit.
There are a lot of hours in a day, and running helps me relax, he said, adding he has run eight marathons with Tricia, his training partner. I do some of my best thinking when Im running.