For Philip Murphy, Key Résumé Entries Are Often Left Unspoken
Mr. Murphy, who lives in Red Bank and has four children, became ambassador in 2009, about six months after Mr. Obama was inaugurated, a delay that reportedly irked some German officials.
What also troubled the Germans, according to former American diplomats, was Mr. Murphy’s lack of diplomatic experience, though he was familiar with the country because he had overseen Goldman Sachs’ office there from 1993 to 1997.
Mr. Murphy, however, was a fast study, according to Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council, who communicated regularly with the American embassy in Berlin. He traveled around the country and used his affinity for soccer to bond with German officials, she said.
But about a year and a half into his tenure, Mr. Murphy was ensnared in a crisis that would embarrass American diplomatic missions around the world: the publication of a massive cache of State Department cables by WikiLeaks.
In the classified cables, Mr. Murphy was shown to be a shrewd operator within the German political system, having sources — one was called “the mole” by German news media — throughout the government. They provided the American embassy inside reports about German politics, including detailed accounts of negotiations to form a coalition government in 2009.
The cables also contained critical comments Mr. Murphy made about senior German officials. He called Chancellor Angela Merkel “insecure” and referred to her as “Teflon” because of her penchant for avoiding political controversy.
He described the foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, as “incompetent, vain and critical of the United States.”
The public embarrassment prompted questions from the media and some German politicians about whether Mr. Murphy should be recalled to the United States. Mr. Murphy expressed regret that the comments were made public, but refused to apologize and said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me,” he told Der Spiegel, the most widely read magazine in Germany. “I worry about my people. They have done nothing wrong. I am not going to apologize for one speck of what they’ve done.’’
Within diplomatic circles, many saw Mr. Murphy’s remarks as common chatter in confidential cables. The German government, while publicly displaying irritation, never asked for another ambassador, according to former White House officials who would only discuss internal diplomatic matters on the condition of anonymity.
“The thing with cables, they all carry the ambassador’s name, but they aren’t necessarily things he wrote,” said Karen Donfried, a former official with the National Security Council. “I remember it being a kerfuffle at the time, but I don’t recall it as having lasting damage for him.”
In some ways, the WikiLeaks crisis may have helped elevate Mr. Murphy’s profile, making him a familiar face. Bild, Germany’s highest-circulation tabloid, began featuring him as a boldfaced name spotted at upscale, celebrity-stocked parties. Photos appeared of Mr. Murphy and his wife, Tammy, on the red carpet at film festivals.
Mr. Murphy dressed his children in local soccer jerseys and participated in a pickup soccer match with German politicians. He invited German reporters to the embassy to view the artwork he and his wife had selected. And he was instrumental in bringing Jon Bon Jovi — a friend for years — to perform at a festival commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“It was not a cakewalk in his time as ambassador and I thought he handled it extremely well,” Ms. Donfried said.
If Mr. Murphy’s role as ambassador produced more public insights than he would have preferred, his long tenure at Goldman Sachs remains largely opaque. The investment firm’s culture of secrecy makes many current and former employees reticent to talk in depth about colleagues or the company’s inner workings.
Mr. Murphy, who received an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School of Business, began as an intern at Goldman Sachs in 1982, and was hired by the firm a year later. He rose quickly, eventually becoming head of Goldman Sachs Germany in Frankfurt, responsible for establishing a beachhead in a country that often preferred doing business with local banks.
Mr. Murphy assembled a team and demanded that they all learn to speak German, even though banking business was mostly conducted in English. He played a key role in signing a major German client, Deutsche Telekom, and his success earned him a spot on the bank’s lucrative managing committee.
It also led him to Hong Kong, as president of Goldman Sachs Asia, where he helped secure $4.2 billion in underwriting for an initial public offering of China Telecom, which was considered a landmark achievement in the privatization of a Chinese national company on the international market.
But deals made by Goldman Sachs under his watch in Asia also drew scrutiny. The firm had been working to take the state oil company, China National Petroleum Corp., public. But the oil company had international associations that ran afoul of American regulations, especially its dealing with the government of Sudan at the time of the genocide in Darfur.
As a solution, the bank worked with the oil company to spin off a domestic entity, PetroChina. But it remained dogged by ties to China National, attracting protests and scrutiny from members of Congress. When PetroChina finally went public in 2000, its initial public offering, promoted by many at Goldman Sachs as one of the biggest in history, fell short of projections.
Mr. Murphy had left his role in Asia before the PetroChina initial public offering was finalized and his part in the deal remains murky. Peter Rose, a former senior manager at Goldman Sachs, said that Mr. Murphy was instrumental in “starting the process,” but said he left his post in Asia before it moved forward.
Henry M. Paulson, who was Goldman’s chief operating officer at the time, also said “I don’t recall his involvement with the PetroChina I.P.O.”
As the campaign for governor nears its end, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican, has used the deal involving PetroChina, as well as others, to attack Mr. Murphy, demanding he release his “Goldman Sachs client list.”
Mr. Murphy’s campaign has declined to comment in any detail on his Goldman Sachs tenure. However, in a separate interview, he said his years at Goldman and as ambassador were assets.
“I see that this is a state in crisis and the economy is broken,” he said. “I think there are things that I learned while I was there that actually matter and are applicable to what we need to do in the state.”
Mr. Rose, Mr. Paulson and other senior managers at Goldman Sachs, described Mr. Murphy’s time at Goldman in the same way others described his performance as ambassador: highly energetic and engaged, skilled at leading conversation and public speaking.
At Goldman, he was known to hold “one conversation” dinner parties at his house, orchestrating the discussion and calling on people to answer questions.
Mr. Paulson recalled a time when he leaned on Mr. Murphy’s public speaking ability and it did not go as planned.
“Phil is a terrific public speaker so after I had become the head of the investment banking division in 1990, I had Phil giving me some tips on delivery at the banquet after the year end conference,” Mr. Paulson said. “I am a teetotaler and Phil, who is not, left his glass of vodka next to my glass of water on the podium. When I mistakenly grabbed his glass to chug some water I thought I was going to die. And when I next opened my mouth to speak nothing came out.”
Those who worked with Mr. Murphy in Germany and Asia said he enjoyed socializing.
“The holiday parties are legendary,” Mr. Rose said, citing a costume party where he mingled with senior Goldman managers while dressed as Buzz Lightyear of “Toy Story.”
He could not recall what Mr. Murphy wore.
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