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Marti P. Murray: Changing Stripes

Marti Murray © 2017 Victor Chu Photography, victorchuphoto.com

Marti P. Murray is the founder and president of Murray Analytics in New York City. She also founded Murray Capital Management, a distressed debt-focused hedge fund, in 1995 and served as the firm’s president and portfolio manager. The firm’s distressed debt business was acquired by Babson Capital in April 2008. Before founding Murray Analytics, Murray was senior managing director at Goldin Associates, where she served as team leader on a variety of complex financial advisory, litigation support, and valuation matters.

Murray has also served on the boards of directors of multiple companies and has been a frequent speaker at investor conferences worldwide on the topics of distressed debt and activist investing. She was a contributing author to the first edition of Managing Hedge Fund Risk: From the Practitioner’s Perspective, edited by Virginia Reynolds Parker and published in 2001. 

Murray was an adjunct professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business from 2001 to 2013. She has taught courses on bankruptcy and distressed debt investing, as well as equity analysis/valuation. During that time, she received a Teacher of the Year prize and an Excellence in Teaching award. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Chinese from Colgate University and an executive MBA in finance from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She is also a Certified Valuation Analyst.

Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?

Murray: I’m an example of someone who had a career transition midlife. I spent most of my career in the hedge fund industry, either as a research analyst or a portfolio manager for funds that invested in distressed companies.

I started off in the distressed debt investing business in 1987 after having had a career as a banker at Bank of America. I started as a research analyst helping the portfolio manager identify distressed and bankrupt companies for potential investments. Then over the course of my career, I had progressively more senior positions in that business. I was recruited by Furman Selz to run their distressed debt investing business after having been at Oppenheimer for about 2½ years doing it there.

Then in 1995 I founded Murray Capital Management, which was an SEC-registered investment advisor that specialized in investing in distressed companies. In 2008, the distressed debt business of Murray Capital was acquired by Mass Mutual, and my entire firm went into Babson Capital, which is the money management division of Mass Mutual, and we basically ran the business inside Babson Capital (now Barings LLC). Then a year and change later, I made the decision to retire from being a portfolio manager.

I still wanted to leverage my experience gained over the course of my 25-year career. I wanted to be in another seat in the room instead of being a portfolio manager subject to daily mark-to-market and the whims of the market, which I had done successfully for many years. I wanted to leverage my experience and my investing knowledge and be either in the seat of an advisor or in a fiduciary role or potentially providing expert witness capabilities in litigation that related to what I’d been doing for the past 25 years.

Q: What have been some of your most gratifying or favorite engagements along the way?

Murray: I enjoy all the engagements. One of the things that I like about what I do now is that it’s very eclectic, and each engagement that I have is unique. For example, I’m serving on the board of directors of Edcon, which is South Africa’s largest non-food retailer and just went through a restructuring recently. This summer I was an interim advisor inside a for-profit education company. The CEO had just departed, so they needed somebody to go in and help manage the company on a temporary basis.

I’ve served as an expert witness in some very high-profile litigations relating to hedge funds and private equity. For example, I was one of the experts for Lynn Tilton, Patriarch Partners, in their SEC enforcement action. I was an expert for Saba Capital in litigation they had with one of their investors over the valuation of a distressed position that they held.

The situations that I find most gratifying are those in which I can bring my history and experience to bear for clients in a really efficient way to help them address their issues.

The situations that I find most gratifying are those in which I can bring my history and experience to bear for clients in a really efficient way to help them address their issues.


Q: What role has your TMA membership played in your career?

Murray: I think it’s been very important for me because I came into this field as a former hedge fund manager. While there was a network of people that I knew and dealt with on a regular basis, it wasn’t necessarily the same network I needed in my current role. There is some overlap, but it’s been very helpful for me to meet other professionals in this field and for them to get to know the unique services Murray Analytics can offer and also for me to understand what other folks are doing.

It’s been very helpful to me in terms of networking, and it’s also provided an opportunity for me to give back to the community. I’m currently serving on the Academic Relations Committee of the New York City TMA Chapter. I used to teach bankruptcy and distressed debt investing at NYU’s Stern School of Business. I also have the experience of having been in an academic environment, so that committee is a good fit for me and I really enjoy working with the other committee members. I look forward to continuing to do that and to finding other ways to benefit from the networking and educational aspects of TMA, as well as having it be a way that I can give back to the community.

Q: A lot of people I’ve talked to suggest that in addition to the giving back, that kind of involvement opens so many avenues for a person. You’re working closely with other people, and they get to know you better and see what you’re capable of.

Murray: I definitely agree with that.

Q: What advice would you have for someone who was new to the industry or was thinking about getting into the industry?

Murray: I would advise them to join TMA. I would advise them to meet as many people as they can to understand the professional landscape in the industry and who is working on what cases, and to basically try to learn as much as possible from others in the industry. And become involved so people get to know you better and can see what it is you can contribute to the community and to the industry.

Q: If you could start your career over, as varied as it has been, would you do anything differently? From what you’ve told me, it sounds like whenever you decided you wanted to do something different, you did it.

Murray: This issue of changing my stripes at a certain point was something that I would say people shouldn’t be afraid of doing. I had been operating as a principal investor for a really long time. I really enjoyed that, but I actually enjoy this kind of work even more. I find it more intellectually challenging, and I really like the diversity of the work. So, I would say I wouldn’t be afraid of making changes and being flexible in terms of thinking about your career.

Q: What might people who only know you in your professional capacity be most surprised to learn about you?

Murray: I have two grown daughters who I’m very proud of. I’m a very family-oriented person. I love children and animals.

I am also an endurance athlete, and I think that’s really been something in my life that’s been very important to me and kept me balanced through either the stress of managing a hedge fund or the stress of being an expert witness. The combination of the training I’ve done as an athlete and the competitions that I’ve participated in have been a really good release for me and helped me maintain a balanced life.

Q: When you say “endurance athlete,” does that mean you competed 
in marathons?

Murray: I used to do duathlons, marathons, and cycling. Now most of my activity is cycling because it’s not as rough on the body.

Q: So you do 
long-distance rides? 

Murray: Yes. For example, several times I’ve ridden from Manhattan, from Penn Station, out to Southampton—so, 120-mile rides.

Q: That’s a nice long ride. Is that your average ride?

Murray: No, that’s a ride I might do once every couple of months. An average ride might be 40 or 50 miles.

Q: What else are you passionate about outside the office?

Murray: I would say keeping up on current events. I’m passionately following the news with respect to politics, international relations, the arts, and business, obviously. 

Q: How did you end up on the board of the company in South Africa?

Murray: This company, Edcon, went through a financial restructuring early in 2017. It was a Bane leveraged buyout that did not work out, so the former creditors became the new shareholders of the company. As part of that restructuring, a new board was constituted, and I was asked by some of the former creditors to serve on that board, which I agreed to do.

That has been a really fascinating experience for me because it’s given me the opportunity to learn more about South Africa—the business environment generally, the business environment for retailers, the political situation, and the situation with respect to the economy. That’s been a really fascinating opportunity for me to use my experience as a principal investor and as a board member for other companies in another part of the world. I go to South Africa about four times a year now, and I’ve really enjoyed learning about the country. 

Q: What was the most surprising thing you’ve encountered, or something that you’ve found particularly interesting about the country? For example, is there a big difference between doing business there and in the U.S.?

Murray: Obviously the country has gone through a lot of political turmoil in the past, and there’s an emphasis on diversity and income inequality. There’s an emphasis on the contributions that companies are making back into South Africa. I would say that’s more of a priority there than it is here.

Q: Are retailers there going through the same problems that U.S. retailers are experiencing? Is it as tough an environment for them?

Murray: There is pressure on retailers over there. There have been new entrants into the market recently, companies like H&M and Zara. The macro environment there in terms of consumer spending has been somewhat difficult, and I think the retailers are adjusting to that. Online trading in South Africa is not yet as developed as it is here.

Q: So they have a little time to adjust and learn from what some U.S. retailers have gone through? 

Murray: Yes. 

Q: Is there anything you’d like 
to add?

Murray: We’ve had some great successes in terms of the matters for which we’ve been retained since I started the firm in April 2015. This year, Murray Analytics won an HFM Hedge Fund Services Award in the category for Best Valuation Service – Hard to Value Assets, and we were a finalist in the best overall advisory firm category. HFM is a global membership organization serving the hedge fund industry.

It’s quite an involved application, with client recommendations and so forth, and the awards are judged by a panel of industry participants. I’m really happy about winning one of the awards and being a finalist for one of those awards because we want to be known as a firm that is recognized by its industry peers as providing an excellent product and excellent capabilities.

A lot of the times we’re retained in a case because we have a capability that the other firms don’t have, which is the experience of having been a principal investor in distressed and restructuring companies. I’m happy that in the two years that Murray Analytics has been in business, we’ve been able to achieve what we have. I’m looking forward to continuing that and looking for ways to collaborate with people in the turnaround community.  

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