Water was never Jason Murphy’s friend. An avid golfer, he knew well how it could ruin a round.
Growing up in Atlanta, Murphy had only a passing interest in boating. That changed when he graduated from James Madison University and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Outings with friends and living by a marina introduced him to what he calls “the allure of water.”
Now, at 38, he is president and owner of Norfolk Marine Company, the iconic Tidewater boat and equipment dealer, in its 71st year. He came aboard in 2005, selling boats for his father-in-law, Garland L. Kight Jr., son of the founder. He climbed the ranks, becoming general manager in ’08. Seven years ago, he bought the company.
“I consider it an institution,” he says. “It’s a blessing to be able to be at the helm of it.”
Murphy and a veteran, loyal staff helped guide Norfolk Marine through the difficult economy of the late 2000s, when the company’s revenue plunged by half. Robust sales and service returned, he says, thanks in large part to a decision to sell only a few top brands of boats and equipment.
That fits the company’s exclusive profile. For example, Norfolk Marine has been the region’s only dealer of Grady White boats for 50 years. “It’s the pinnacle brand in the industry,” Murphy says. “I didn’t come here to sell boats. I came to sell Grady White boats.”
He recently expanded the showroom and service department, and is pursuing more government and commercial business for its sustainability. He also obsesses over the company website, writing every word about every boat in stock. And until recently, he took every photo.
Beyond words and pictures, though, Murphy says Norfolk Marine is first about the “release from reality” born of the open blue.
“Owning a boat isn’t just about having an asset,” he says. “Water is like nature’s Xanax. You hear people say all their problems seem to melt away when they get on their boat … even if they don’t know where they’re going.”