Beijing’s expatriate community lost one of its finest Wednesday as Mike Murphy, the man who brought the IQAir brand to Beijing, died suddenly at his home in the Lido area.
A resident of Beijing for over a decade, Mike was the very definition of a self-made man. He arrived in 2004 with his pregnant wife, having been a landscaper in the US, and started his business by selling Christmas trees in the parking lot of Pinnacle Plaza in Shunyi, at a time when they were virtually impossible to buy in Beijing.
"We arrived with very little money and no job prospects. Our first apartment cost us RMB 1,000 and had a pipe in the ceiling that dripped enough water to call it a ‘shower,’" Mike recalled in a 2009 interview in the Beijinger. "Starbucks was a once-a-month treat."
His interactions selling trees to Shunyi expats soon had him retailing high-end grills, trampolines and other hard-to-find accessories.
With a true entrepreneurial spirit, he was the first person in China to reach out to Swiss-based IQAir to ask for the rights to sell their high-end air filtration machines in China.
We Beijing expats take air quality awareness for granted in 2015, but Mike started his business at a time when air masks and filtration devices were almost non-existent in China, and neither the US Embassy nor the Chinese government reguarly published air quality data.
In 2006 when his first batch IQAir machines went on sale in Beijing, many scoffed at the idea that people would be willing to pay a premium for cleaner air in their homes and offices. They were wrong: the products were an instant hit.
Along the way, his business profoundly impacted expats’ perceptions of Beijing’s air quality and enabled them to protect themselves against its dangers. By extension, he paved the way for more entrepreneurs to import and develop the vast array of air filtration devices that serve both the expatriate and the local markets now.
It’s hard to exaggerate the impact Mike has had on Beijing’s international community. The machines he retailed have graced the living spaces of countless homes and offices, and his active promotion of the brand and its specifications helped make "HEPA filtration" and "PM 2.5" part of the common vernacular of the typical Beijing expat. His business has also profoundly impacted the Chinese community as well, with IQAir among the most well-known brands in major cities across the country.
Mike was a modest person who never forgot his humble upbringings and was always eager to share his business advice. He and his four brothers and sisters were raised by their single mother, with utitilies regularly turned off due to lack of payment, he told Start Up Noodle in 2014.
"From the age of 12 on, I have always been working—I can’t remember a stretch of time that I wasn’t doing odd jobs for money. And honestly, since the age of 12, I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have all the things I needed and many of the things I wanted," he was quoted as saying.
His strong work ethic propelled him to success in each of the ventures he started, and he enjoyed the ride as an entrepreneur. "I have loved every minute of every day that I have worked on my own," he told Start Up Noodle. "Almost every one of my friends and family growing up express discontent for their jobs or careers, some even express hatred. I have never experienced this and wouldn’t even know what to do if I did."
An avid traveler, Mike had been to over 40 countries before arriving in Beijing, and continued the tradition with his children. For the past year he has split his time between Beijing and Vancouver, where his kids have been going to school.
"Mike had an inspirational story both as a man and as an entrepreneur," recalled fellow entrepreneur and Beijing resident Jim James. "He overcame difficulties with good humor, determination and humility. He leaves behind more than he came with and so will always be remembered in my heart and mind."
Mike was a strong supporter of True Run Media’s products and via this support, allowed us to do what we do.
As of publication, there was no indication of the cause of death but foul play was not suspected.
He is survived by his wife and two children, as well as extended family in the US and in Canada. He also leaves hundreds of friends, customers, and business associates in Beijing.
"Our customers are from all over the world, and each of them has their own story to tell," Mike said in our 2009 interview with him. "I love the fact that we are able to make a difference in their lives by bringing them those things that they want and need."
A memorial service in Beijing for Mike is set for April 17 in Beijing at the River of Grace church in Wangjing (see graphic above).
Our thoughts go out to Mike’s family and friends.
Rest in Peace, Mike.
Photo: the Beijinger