When the Fortune 500 company his grandfather founded decided it wanted to improve the quality of life in the small town where it is headquartered, focusing on education just seemed natural, Charles "Chip" Murphy told Chattanooga Rotary Club members on Thursday.
The upshot: Murphy Oil committed $50 million to fund El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program for all public school students in El Dorado, AR. The company will spend $5 million annually for the next 10 years helping students afford to go to the colleges of their choice.
Already, the program has generated enthusiasm throughout the community, he noted. For example, one college senior -- after learning El Dorado Promise would help pay his way to any college, anywhere -- said he wished he had known about it sooner.
"If I'd known I had choices, I would have worked harder," the student confessed.
Based on how long they attended El Dorado schools, students can get as much as $6,200 per year to help pay their college tuitions.
"We've given a raise to everybody in the community who has children," he said.
The idea is not original, Mr. Murphy confessed. "We stole it" after reading an article about the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Promise in the Wall Street Journal, he said.
As the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in a completely rural area, he said, Murphy Oil designed El Dorado Promise to meet the needs of the South Arkansas residents it targets.
El Dorado peaked in population around 1921, he said. During recent years, the community has been losing its industrial base and has seen its number of residents decline.
Today, only about 4,400 students attend public school there.
Nevertheless, Murphy Oil officials, realizing the company "can make a difference in a town of this size," is committed to making El Dorado Promise a success, he said.
"We don't know yet how this will turn out," he said. "It may be that the only thing that will come of this is that the kids going to school in El Dorado will get to go to college.
"And that's fine," he added.
But he's hoping the program will have a positive impact on the entire community, not just the students it helps through school.
Currently, Arkansas ranks low on educational achievement and number of college graduates, he noted. With any luck, this program can help change that.
And along the way, he said, it could make it easier for Murphy Oil and other employers in the area to recruit new workers from outside the area.
A 1971 graduate of Baylor School, Mr. Murphy went on to obtain a degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University.
Following graduation, he worked as manager of the Ashley Plantation in Tallulah, LA, and oversaw a 5,200-acre row crop operation and participated in the formation of the Great River Grain Co.
Over the years, he has:
* Worked as manager of planning and development for Deltic Farm and Timber Co. in El Dorado, AR, where he managed land acquisition and budgeting for the 450,000-acre forest product company.
* Developed and implemented the master use plan for Chenal Properties, a 7,000-acre mixed-use real estate project in Little Rock, AR.
* Spent a decade in Warsaw, Poland, where he founded International Farms, a cross-breeding project intended to improve beef production in eastern Europe.
* Designed and developed Quail Ridge, a mixed-use development in suburban Wichita, KS, that was awarded the 1996 Public Improvement Award by the state of Kansas.
Today he serves as managing member of the Murphy Group; chairman of the board of ClearPointe Technology; chief operating officer of Amaterra, Jamaica; and vice president of Loutre Land and Timber Co. in El Dorado.
He is a member of the Baylor School board of trustees.