By Jacqueline Taylor
In his 18-year motor-racing career, Greg Murphy crossed the finish line to victory in many memorable races. Among the highlights were his two titles from the Sandown 500, and four wins at the Bathurst 1000, including his record-breaking ‘Lap of the Gods’ in 2003 – all aboard Holden Commodores.
But his toughest challenge wasn’t on the racetrack. It was getting the money to fund his passion.
From a young age, the man affectionately known as ‘Murph’ learnt that if you want something, you have to work hard to get it.
Growing up in Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay, he spent many weekends with his father, Kevin, at the Hawke’s Bay Kart Track in Hastings, where karting became a big part of his life.
“I wasn’t very good at ball sports, and wasn’t selected for the top soccer team, or top rugby team, but I could go pretty good in a go-kart.”
But the problem was, karting was much more expensive than a pair of football boots.
Coming from a modest background, with both his parents working hard, Murphy understood that to fund his karting hobby he would need to pitch in and help pay his way.
“We didn’t have as much as some of the people we were competing against. So if I wanted to be successful and compete at a certain level, I would have to dig in and work pretty hard at it.”
Murphy took on many different jobs, including paper rounds, dog-walking and car-washing, to help supplement the money Kevin was pouring into the sport. At every opportunity, Kevin would find extra work for the pair of them, so Murphy junior could compete.
“My Dad was very committed to [the sport]. During the fruit season, we would get out there together to pick apples to make some extra money.”
Sponsors take notice
Murphy’s chance to shift a gear from karts to cars came from winning the inaugural Shell Driving Scholarship in his last year of school. During his first season racing ‘real’ cars, his talent was spotted and sponsors started to take an interest.
Although Murphy had developed outstanding motor-racing skills, he says the monetary rewards for winning were not the driving force behind his success.
“There wasn’t a lot of financial gain in racing. There was a chance to be rewarded, but often that money went back into paying bills… other than that, we were funding everything ourselves through sponsorships that we’d raised.”
During those years, Murphy attracted loyal sponsors, including Shell, Aztec Corn Chips, and his local Warehouse store. Choosing to focus on motor sport rather than take up an engineering degree with Air New Zealand, he went to work at the Manfeild circuit in Palmerston North, after his last year at high school.
Although he earned very little working at the racetrack, the young Murph got a lot of track time and, just as importantly, built relationships with sponsors who would go on to support him.
This was the turning point for Murphy: racing was no longer “just a hobby and an interest” but a viable career.
As his wins stacked up and his reputation in the sport grew, Murphy moved to Australia and hit the big time.
Fast track to success
In Sydney, Murphy was paid for the first time for driving and at age 23, car racing became his career. But like many people in their early 20s, financial planning wasn’t a priority.
“I wasn’t really thinking too much about the future. All I cared about was racing cars and having a pretty good time. I was earning bugger-all anyway, just enough to get by, to pay rent and have the odd dollar to go to the pub with.”
But his focus on personal finance changed once Murphy was picked up by the Holden Racing Team in Melbourne and a contract was signed for 1997.
“I was getting paid more money that I’d ever seen. My first decent contract was probably paying a lot more than my father had ever earned in 12 months.”
Realising he needed to pay closer attention to the management of his finances, Murphy went to an accountant for advice. The relationship with his accountant had positive outcomes, but it was also the time Murphy admits to making his very worst investment decision.
He was renting an apartment in Port Melbourne, an area where real estate was about to flourish. He considered buying a property, but was advised
“That was probably one of my biggest investment regrets, considering what the value of property is worth there now.”
The path to wealth
Murphy says that ever since, he’s been pretty smart with money. He and wife Monique went on to make some very successful investments, mainly in property, both in New Zealand and Australia.
“We’ve never done anything that has put us into a position where we have lost everything, and we won’t. But there have been a lot of little things along the way that have been good, including a few cars that I’ve been able to make a bit of money out of.
“A lot of good decisions, along with a few bad decisions, have allowed us to be where we are today – and that’s the way we will continue to go.”
Murphy is a great believer in superannuation investment. “We were being advised to invest in super, and there was a time we were putting a lot of money into it.”
Having now made New Zealand his home, Murphy supports KiwiSaver and says it should be compulsory.
“KiwiSaver is going to give people a chance of having a better retirement. Not everyone will understand money and won’t actively invest. But if you’re being forced to do [KiwiSaver], it will be for your benefit later on, whether you know it or not.”
On the horizon
Now retired from his racing career, Murphy is kept busy with media work, guest-speaking, and promotional activities. The investment he really wants to focus on now is ‘people’.
“I’d love to be able to be a philanthropist. The most satisfying thing to do is to help others. The reward and benefit from doing that would be amazing.”
Murphy has the utmost admiration for people who have grown their wealth from modest beginnings and wants to support individuals who have great ideas but need financial support. He would love to get behind goal-driven individuals, who want to create businesses, and help them succeed.
“One of the most satisfying things I could do is to help others who need support. That would be the best investment I could possibly make.”