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Disney Legend Tom Murphy Passes at 96

Disney Legend Tom Murphy

Disney Legend Thomas S. Murphy died Wednesday, May 25, at his home in Rye, New York. He was 96.

Murphy served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Capital Cities/ABC for 30 years, and oversaw its merger with The Walt Disney Company in 1995.

Murphy began his broadcasting career in 1954, eventually building a new company, Capital Cities Communications, Inc., which over decades would grow into a well-known, highly successful media company with television, radio, publishing, and cable properties.

In 1985, his company merged with ABC, Inc., a significantly larger organization. It was a $3.5 billion transaction—the largest non-oil merger to have been concluded to that date.

Disney Legend Tom Murphy

Following the merger, Murphy and Chief Operating Officer Dan Burke established a company culture that stressed managerial decentralization and strict cost control. They felt strongly that managers needed to contribute to their communities and that ethical behavior was paramount.

The two gathered their managers annually, and the meetings always ended with Murphy’s reading of the company credo.

“Decentralization is the cornerstone of our management philosophy,” it read. “Our goal is to hire the best people we can find and give them the responsibility and authority they need to perform their jobs. Decisions are made at the local level, consistent with the basic responsibilities of corporate management… We expect a great deal from our managers… You can make mistakes, but only honest mistakes. There is no second chance at Capital Cities/ABC if you discredit yourself and your company with unethical or dishonest actions or activities.”

Ten years after the ABC acquisition, Murphy surprised the business world again with the announcement of the merger of Capital Cities/ABC with The Walt Disney Company. It was a $19 billion transaction.

Murphy served on the Disney Board of Directors for seven years, from 1997-2004, sat on its Executive Committee from 1997 to 2004, and was named a Disney Legend in 2007 for his contributions to the Company.

Disney Legend Tom Murphy

“Tom Murphy was unrivaled in our industry, not just for his business achievements, but for his impeccable ethics, his unwavering kindness and his boundless generosity,” said Robert A. Iger, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

“He was a deeply principled man, setting and demanding high standards, always living up to them, and never compromising ethics in the service of business… To me, he was more than a mentor. He was a father figure, placing trust in me, instilling confidence, exhorting innovation, being accessible, and just as capable at commiserating failures as he was at cheering on successes. I will never cease to appreciate his friendship and his goodness.”

Murphy was also active philanthropically, remaining on some community boards for decades. He served as Chairman of the Board of Save the Children from 1998 to 2005, and a Trustee of the Board of NYU Langone Medical Center from 1972 until his passing, including seven years as Chairman of the Board. He also joined the Board of Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in 1963, and served as President and later Chairman during his years there.

Tom Murphy is survived by four children and their spouses, and by nine grandchildren.