Kimberly Murphy directs and mentors at State Farm Insurance
She describes herself as "inquisitive by nature;" her inspirations include a demanding teacher, the power of ITSMF, and some personal challenges
'If you ask people who work for me what I'm like, I hope they would say that I'm straightforward and honest," says Kimberly Murphy. "But they would also tell you that I ask a ton of questions. I am inquisitive by nature. I do it to create an open dialogue to figure out the best way to tackle problems."
Murphy is IT director at State Farm Insurance (Bloomington, IL). She joined State Farm in 1991 as an entry- level analyst and mainframe programmer, went through the organization's training program and ultimately assumed her management role in 2000 as a manager of systems technology.
As director, she leads a team of project managers who work in infrastructure, as well as data and information management. Twenty-one report to her directly.
Murphy explains that there are two sides to IT work: project delivery and upgrades, and ongoing support. "I'm responsible for staffing the managers to execute delivery of new technology. These people focus on optimization of delivery but not the support; that is done by other infrastructure directors. If the network breaks or the system is unavailable, that's the responsibility of other teams."
Early clues to a future in math
Murphy is from the small town of Mounds, IL and admits that she had no idea what she was going to do with her life, but knew that it would somehow relate to mathematics. "I have always loved math, puzzles and those kinds of things," she says. "In high school, there weren't many people in math classes, let alone girls or African American girls," Murphy remembers.
"I knew math wouldn't be easy but I loved the challenge. Our high school math teacher assigned lots of homework because she knew that the only way we were going to get good at it was by doing. When we grumbled, she would say, 'When you get to college, this is what you'll have to do!' Looking back, I'm glad she assigned all that work."
She attended Southern Illinois University (SIU, Carbondale, IL) and in 1991 earned her BS in mathematics with a minor in computer science. "Late in my college career I decided I needed to specialize if I wanted to do something other than teach."
As graduation approached, State Farm came to the SIU campus to conduct interviews. Since Murphy's sister and two brothers all worked at State Farm, she decided to apply. It was the only company at which she interviewed and has been her only employer. "It is very much a family organization," she believes. "They really care about you as an individual."
At State Farm, Murphy belongs to the African American Forum, and to Pride, a resource and support group for LGBT employees. She has also been a member of the Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF, Lawrenceville, GA) since 2007. She was its 2012 member of the year.
"I have been so impressed by the people who are involved in ITSMF," she says. "These are African American executives in national and global organizations, and their commitment to developing other African American executives is genuine and powerful. It's what drew me in and got me involved in committee work, and what got State Farm to become a sponsor."
Murphy is also heavily involved in mentoring at ITSMF and State Farm. "At ITSMF, I was asked to work with one of the new mentees coming into the next leadership development program," she says. "In State Farm's African American Forum, I am on the mentoring committee as well. I ask a lot of questions so that I can learn and to get them to think."
She's looking to her personal future as well. "I've spent so much time in infrastructure that I'd like to learn more about the business side." She is working through the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society (CPCU, Malvern, PA) to obtain her CPCU designation.
"Professionally," she says, "this helps me understand more about the business that our IT department enables. After twenty-one years in my career, the CPCU designation is something I'll take pride in having. I view things with a totally different perspective now than I used to. I have more experience than I used to. I also have a house and a better car than when I was starting out, so I have more risks, too," she adds with a smile.
Murphy has set herself challenges outside work as well as inside. She ran her first marathon in 2000, and four years later she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. "I wanted to run an entire marathon with RA, which I did in 2006. I've run twelve half marathons, two marathons and two relay races that were 190 to 210 miles. A majority of these were after the RA diagnosis. The RA has slowed me down a little," she admits, "but I still have more to do."
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