• World Biz Magazine

INTERVIEW: BOB MURRAY - CEO OF FORTINBERRY MURRAY



Dr. Bob Murray MBA, PhD is an internationally recognized expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioral change. ​Dr. Murray helps organizations use the latest research in human science to better market their services, lead their people, improve their productivity and increase their firm-wide resilience. His insights are based on his wide experience in business as well as his deep knowledge of management, psychology, genetics and neurobiology. He has led behavioural change programs for major law firms in Australia, the US, the UK and Asia as well as for Global 500 and major national corporations and the Big Four consultancies. Bob is a NY Times best-selling author. His most recent book (with Dr Alicia Fortinberry), The Human Science Strategy: what works and what doesn’t (ARK Group, London) shows the potential impact of human science on organizational success.


Fortinberry Murray- Using HumanScience™ to bring your best future forward. For over 30 years, Global 500 and major regional organisations have relied on Fortinberry Murray’s guidance to build and maintain competitive advantage in a rapidly changing environment.


"Our emphasis is on the practical application of new discoveries—what do they indicate that individuals and organizations should do differently. So many of the influencing, marketing, sales, personnel management techniques—most of which are still taught in major business schools—are outdated and based on false assumptions. They don’t reflect how humans actually make decisions, work most effectively, or are influenced and motivated."


Tell us about the work of Fortinberry Murray.

My partner, Dr Alicia Fortinberry and I began Fortinberry Murray in 1985 in New York. FM now has clients throughout the world. Our overall mission is to make organizations of all kinds work for the benefit of human beings by aligning their strategies and their ways of operating more closely with what we call our “design specs.” In that way, they can be not just more productive, but also have a happier and more engaged and motivated workforce.


It’s hard to precisely classify our firm, as we and our colleagues work in a wide range of fields and industries. Essentially FM is a consultancy which, historically has specialized in the areas of leadership development, team creation and performance, strategy, marketing and communication. Our work is based on the latest research in a broad range of disciplines based on what we call “Human Science”.


These include psychology, neuroscience, neurogenetics, anthropology, biological psychiatry, management science, marketing and social science. However, we are also futurists who study and draw practical lessons from what research is telling us are the major factors which will affect businesses and governments. Increasingly, our clients are asking us to help them redirect their business, personnel, marketing and communications strategy to take into account what we have discovered are the major emerging trends. On a more personal level, we are executive coaches to a wide range of business and government leaders.

Our emphasis is on the practical application of new discoveries—what do they indicate that individuals and organizations should do differently. So many of the influencing, marketing, sales, personnel management techniques—most of which are still taught in major business schools—are outdated and based on false assumptions. They don’t reflect how humans actually make decisions, work most effectively, or are influenced and motivated.


"We work at all levels of organizations and in all departments. Offhand, I can’t think of a department of any of our long-standing clients that we haven’t worked with. Our knowledge of human science and our practical tips apply throughout any organization. Overall, the impact of our contributions to those we work with has been broad. We have increased individual and group productivity, we have empowered people, we have reduced bullying, we have greatly increased the effectiveness of teams."


Tell us about the pathways through which you assist your clients to achieve desired improvements.

We aim to get our ideas, our information, and our research out to as many people as possible. Sometimes this will be through one-on-one executive coaching with business or government leaders. More often it will be through workshops or keynotes at conferences or retreats. Recently we have done much of our work online using a wide range of platforms. We have found the transition surprisingly seamless. We will use whatever delivery method best suits our clients, their structure, and their budget. Unlike many major consultancies, we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to the problems that are brought to us. We tend to have long, deep and collaborative relationships with clients, who call on us to solve problems and work with them to tailor solutions that best fit their people, structure and budget. Clients tell us they come to us for three main distinguishing features: We are world-acclaimed, groundbreaking psychologists and scientists—so we know our stuff. We’re practical and our advice can be put to immediate use. Finally we’re empathetic—we seek to understand and help them as well as help solve their business problems. For these reasons we’re in high demand as speakers and, we’ve discovered recently, we are experts in delivering entertaining and informative webinars and podcasts.


What departments within organizations are best suited to your services?

We work at all levels of organizations and in all departments. Offhand, I can’t think of a department of any of our long-standing clients that we haven’t worked with. Our knowledge of human science and our practical tips apply throughout any organization. Overall, the impact of our contributions to those we work with has been broad. We have increased individual and group productivity, we have empowered people, we have reduced bullying, we have greatly increased the effectiveness of teams. We have improved interpersonal relationships throughout teams, departments and organizations. We have one of the most moving pieces of feedback, which reflects a common sentiment of those we touch is: “I learned more than I ever have about leadership and building high performing teams. But honestly what I most value is how to talk to my son. I used to think success was all about being successful at work. Now I know it’s about the relationships I make with everyone I value in my life and how to do that well. Thanks to your presentations I am getting to really know my 13-year-old son. And I want to guide him to not make the mistakes I did, but to focus on and be skilled in relationships.”


"Our clients tell us that we take complex scientific principles and make them understandable. Real results come from learning new behaviors and actions. What does an individual, a group or an organization need to do differently? ... What concrete steps do they need to take to get where they want to go? However, the first step we take is to find out about them—to form supportive relationships with our clients. We want to find out their real needs, personally and in terms of their organization and industry. Often what they really need turns out to be quite different from what they thought."


There is a distinct focus on using the latest science-based knowledge in your work. What are the advantages to this approach?

In the past most consultants relied on models with little or no scientific basis, and their own assumptions. So much research has shown that this doesn’t work to engender lasting change and is why over 80% of change initiatives fail. Fortinberry Murray started with a simple question: how do human beings actually function? We wanted to know what makes us arrive at the decisions we make, buy the things we do, lead people in particular ways. What really makes us happy in the short and long term, like or hate each other, collaborate or not, trust other people, or not. The search for the answers (for there are many) to that fundamental question has driven our research and our business. As a result is our guidance and advice is based not just on our own experience (which by now is broad indeed) but also on proven research findings, on hard science. We carefully examine our own assumptions an d biases and teach clients how to do the same. We know what we suggest works.


You provide practical step-by-step actions to help your clients overcome their challenges. Why is this beneficial?

Our clients tell us that we take complex scientific principles and make them understandable. Real results come from learning new behaviors and actions. What does an individual, a group or an organization need to do differently? ... What concrete steps do they need to take to get where they want to go? However, the first step we take is to find out about them—to form supportive relationships with our clients. We want to find out their real needs, personally and in terms of their organization and industry. Often what they really need turns out to be quite different from what they thought. You can’t help anyone until you know about them and the context they’re in. This process also deepens their own understanding and curiosity. Then you look at what they do. We observe and explore underling aspects of what they want to achieve such as their decision-making, delivery of performance reviews, influencing techniques, delivery (or not) of hard messages, quality of dialogue and what techniques they use to motivate their people. Once we have gathered this information, we can suggest ways we can help them to change what could be done more effectively. We don’t set out to change mindsets. Mindsets are formed through the experience of doing and reacting to how other people react to us. If you consistently do things differently you get different results and, when the new actions work, the reward system of the brain will create a new mindset. This is why we concentrate on practical behaviors that people can first experiment with and then adopt.


"The challenges for business reflect the five existential problems facing humanity — I call them the five horsemen of the modern apocalypse: climate change, unrestricted human genetic engineering, unregulated development of AI, overpopulation, and rising inequality. Businesses face particular challenges within the context of those five horsemen. For example, rising inequality is leading to a shortening of the average American lifespan and a decrease in most people’s disposable income."



From your point of view, what are the top 5 challenges that businesses face today?

The challenges for business reflect the five existential problems facing humanity —I call them the five horsemen of the modern apocalypse: climate change, unrestricted human genetic engineering, unregulated development of AI, overpopulation, and rising inequality. Businesses face particular challenges within the context of those five horsemen. For example, rising inequality is leading to a shortening of the average American lifespan and a decrease in most people’s disposable income. Unless you’re in the business of supplying opiates or running funeral parlors this is not good news. In terms of where we are now, the five most pressing challenges that all businesses face are (in no particular order):

  • Loss of trust. Trust is slipping within organizations (70% of employees don’t trust their leaders and 60% of leaders don’t trust the promises their followers make to them). There is a loss of trust by the community in business generally and in particular a loss of trust in most goods and services. The challenge is going to be how to regain this trust. How to get people committed to you as a leader, to your organization and to your products. Otherwise survival is dubious at best.

  • Lack of meaningful innovation. Almost all innovation for the last 100 years has been technological. This has been our great failure in terms of our ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead. We need innovation in the way we relate to each other in businesses, the way we lead a largely home-based workforce, the way we construct and manage teams, the way we sell our services when we may never meet our clients, how we sell and market in a rapidly-approaching post-capitalist (as we now know it) economy and so on.

  • Loss of engagement. Businesses and all organizations must learn how to engage a largely part-time or gig workforce. Most employees are painfully aware that they are either expendable or might soon become so. Loyalty and engagement are attributes they can’t emotionally afford and therefore are unwilling to give.

  • Internal inequality. Employees, and customers, will no longer tolerate overpaid CEOs and executives. In the 1950s the wage differential between the lowest and highest paid person in a business was 5:1. Now it stretches to several thousand to one. This saps morale and customer loyalty.

  • The demise of globalization. Businesses will have to think national, regional and even local as fissures increasingly lead to a more divided world and even sharply divided nations. Supply chains will no longer be international but will be “brought home.” Human nature and especially human genetics make this trend almost inevitable.

There are other challenges ahead, but these seem to me to be the top five. Another one which is becoming a crisis is the level of work stress and mental illness within businesses.

You have written and co-authored a number of books. Share with us the best starting point to explore your books?

The best place to start for a leader is with our latest book “The Human Science of Strategy: What works and what doesn’t,” (Ark Group, 2020) It’s short, simple and full of practical tips as well as a wealth of the latest in human science.


"All industry, even professional services, have been based on models created over 100 years ago. These took little account of human science—probably because so little was actually known about our design specs. In times of rapid change, the old models don’t work—there’s a good argument to be made that they never did. What we in Fortinberry Murray are trying to do is encourage organizations not just to think outside the box. But to forget about the box."


Why is it important for organizations and leaders to approach Management and Relationships holistically?

All industry, even professional services, have been based on models created over 100 years ago. These took little account of human science—probably because so little was actually known about our design specs. In times of rapid change, the old models don’t work—there’s a good argument to be made that they never did. What we in Fortinberry Murray are trying to do is encourage organizations not just to think outside the box. But to forget about the box. We have to ask, for example: What is the point of my business from a social point of view? Is productivity really important? Why do people come to work for me? If my organization were a not-for-profit what would be my message? What kind of “tribe” am I attempting to build with my employees, my customers, my clients? If I and other employers get rid of our workforce and replace it with robots and AI, who will have the wherewithal to buy my products or services?


Winston Churchill famously said of countries that sought safety in neutrality during WW2 “Each one hopes the tiger will eat him last.” Businesses today are the same. But one thing is for sure: if we keep going with our headlong rush into technology and maintain our blind drive for increased cost-saving, all our businesses are on the tiger’s menu. If business isn’t there to sustain humanity (which includes adding to individual human beings’ sense of subjective wellbeing) and the planet we live on, why on earth is it there? Business leaders will have to come up with answers to these questions in order to survive.



How much of a problem is bullying in the workplace and what is your recommended approach to dealing with this?

Workplace bullying has risen by some 50% over the last decade. This is due to increasing stress (up 200% since 2010), increasing demands on employees and fear of job loss. With the rising pressures and the shift to off-site working, the bullying will get worse—but it will morph in two directions, neither of them nice. We will get far more Zoom-and-cyber bullying of colleagues and followers on the one hand and domestic bullying and violence on the other (according to the WHO this is up by 60% in Europe since the beginning of COVID-19 and child abuse has risen by 100% in some parts of the US according to a recent PBS report).

  • Make it safe for people to speak up when they witness bullying of any sort.

  • Have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or harassment no matter who does it.

  • Be absolutely clear what actions, inactions or behaviors constitute bullying.

  • Make leaders at every level aware of how certain actions or directives of theirs may cause undue stress and thus bullying.

  • Reduce the stress burden in organizations.

  • Make sure that the culture of the organization does not encourage bullying or harassment.

Fortinberry Murray was appointed by President Obama to head the US Dept. of Health and Human Services Workstress Initiative. You have also won the US Science Achievement Award. What do these prestigious recognitions mean to you?

Both Alicia and I are extremely honored. I try not to get too caught up in it. We have so much we still want to contribute. It’s nice to be acknowledged by people and bodies we admire, but our past is the least interesting thing about us. The interesting part of my life is now—it always has been. All we really have is the present. We can waste our nows by angsting about the past, or glorying in it or worrying about the future, or looking forward to it. All of these are literally a waste of time—this time that we have now.


For more information: www.fortinberrymurray.com