CEO Cynt Mar­shall a pi­o­neer­ing Mav­er­ick

- Mark Med­ina Dallas Mavericks · United States of America · National Basketball Association · Mark Cuban · AT&T · Dallas · Council · American Airlines · The Mavericks · Marshall · Rick Carlisle · Carlisle, KY · The Mavericks

“I want to make sure I do a good job, be a good role model and show that it shouldn’t be un­usual for a Black woman to be in a job like this. We are ca­pa­ble . ... I want to make sure I’m not the last. I can’t be the last, and I won’t be the last. I know I won’t be.” Cynt Mar­shall Mav­er­icks CEO

Dur­ing Black His­tory Month, with the se­ries 28 Black sto­ries in 28 days, USA TO­DAY Sports ex­am­ines the is­sues, chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties Black ath­letes and sports of­fi­cials face af­ter the na­tion’s reck­on­ing on race in 2020.

The bil­lion­aire NBA owner has be­come known both for his busi­ness savvi­ness and his bru­tally hon­est opin­ions.

When Mark Cuban con­tacted Cynt Mar­shall about join­ing the Mav­er­icks three years ago, how­ever, Mar­shall’s ig­no­rance emerged.

“I didn’t know who he was,” Mar­shall told USA TO­DAY Sports about Cuban. “I had a big job. I’m rais­ing four kids. I just didn’t know who he was.”

Cuban knew about Mar­shall, how­ever, de­spite her lack of con­nec­tions in NBA cir­cles. Mar­shall had worked for 36 years at AT&T, a place where she had lead­er­ship roles aimed at im­prov­ing di­ver­sity and work­place cul­ture prac­tices. She re­tired in 2017 to launch her con­sult­ing firm, Mar­shalling Re­sources. With Sports Il­lus­trated de­tail­ing var­i­ous sex­ual ha­rass­ment and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence al­le­ga­tions within the Mav­er­icks’ or­ga­ni­za­tion, Cuban con­sid­ered hir­ing Mar­shall as their CEO as a sig­nif­i­cant first step to­ward ad­dress­ing those is­sues. Mar­shall be­came im­pressed with Cuban’s pitch.

“Mark showed gen­uine sin­cer­ity about want­ing to have a cul­ture change and want­ing to get un­der­neath what had hap­pened to make the place bet­ter for peo­ple,” Mar­shall said. “He was very trans­par­ent about the stuff he should’ve known and the things he wished he had done.”

Af­ter con­sult­ing var­i­ous team em­ploy­ees and pray­ing, Mar­shall ac­cepted Cuban’s of­fer about a month af­ter the SI re­port’s pub­li­ca­tion. Since then, Mav­er­icks coach Rick Carlisle de­scribed Mar­shall as “one of the great lead­ers that I’ve ever been around” and “has trans­formed this or­ga­ni­za­tion into one of the great ex­am­ples of equal­ity and di­ver­sity.”

With the 61-year-old be­com­ing the first Black fe­male CEO of an NBA fran

chise, she en­sured changes in vary­ing ways. Mar­shall lis­tened to var­i­ous em­ploy­ees, who shared con­cerns both about the al­le­ga­tions and wishes for her to help the or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­dress them. Mar­shall asked prob­ing ques­tions to Cuban, who told USA TO­DAY Sports he had “no rea­son not to be com­pletely hon­est with her on that or any is­sue.” And Mar­shall then im­ple­mented var­i­ous poli­cies to im­prove the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s prac­tices.

“I want to make sure I do a good job, be a good role model and show that it shouldn’t be un­usual for a Black woman to be in a job like this. We are ca­pa­ble,” Mar­shall said. “I want to make sure I’m work­ing and oth­ers are work­ing to cul­ti­vate the sec­ond, third, fourth and fifth one that’s com­ing. I want to make sure I’m not the last. I can’t be the last, and I won’t be the last. I know I won’t be.”

While the NBA had an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mar­shall over­saw the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to staff changes. Mar­shall also de­tailed a 100-day plan that out­lined 200 ini­tia­tives. Some of those in­cluded in­stalling a con­fi­den­tial hot­line and em­ployee sur­veys to re­port con­cerns, hir­ing com­pli­ance of­fi­cers to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions promptly and launch­ing the “Women of Mavs Em­pow­er­ing Net­work” to help staff fe­male em­ploy­ees with ca­reer de­vel­op­ment and net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Af­ter the Mav­er­icks ini­tially had zero women or peo­ple of color on their lead­er­ship team, Mar­shall now leads a 14per­son ex­ec­u­tive team that con­sists of both 47% women and 47% peo­ple of color. Mar­shall over­sees the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s work­place prac­tices, com­mu­nity events and busi­ness op­er­a­tions. And Mar­shall has de­vel­oped the Dal­las Mav­er­icks Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil, which in­volves 27 com­mu­nity, busi­ness and aca­demic lead­ers who pro­vide out­side ad­vis­ing and con­sult­ing.

Last year, the Mav­er­icks won the NBA’s In­clu­sion Lead­er­ship Award. No won­der Cuban touted Mar­shall for her “vi­sion, lead­er­ship, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and busi­ness skills.”

“We have more di­verse ideas and ini­tia­tives com­ing from our team,” Cuban wrote in an email to USA TO­DAY Sports. “Peo­ple know they can speak up and bring a per­spec­tive we may not have thought of be­fore. That’s made us a much more vi­brant cul­ture.”

Steady hand in tough times

Those qual­i­ties be­came in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in the past year amid chal­lenges with a global pan­demic and na­tion­wide racial in­jus­tices. Mar­shall be­came a wel­come voice on how the Mav­er­icks han­dled the na­tional an­them, in­vited vac­ci­nated es­sen­tial work­ers to games and helped the NBA with pro­mo­tional ef­forts on tak­ing the COVID-19 vac­cine.

When the NBA re­sumed last sea­son in a cam­pus bub­ble, the ma­jor­ity of NBA play­ers, coaches and staff mem­bers knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest sys­temic racism. Cuban de­cided not to play the na­tional an­them dur­ing the Mav­er­icks’ first 12 reg­u­lar-sea­son home games in a mostly empty arena. Af­ter the NBA ruled that all teams are re­quired to play the an­them once fans are wel­comed back into are­nas, Cuban said in a state­ment he would fol­low the league pol­icy. He added, “We re­spect and al­ways have re­spected the pas­sion peo­ple have for the an­them and our coun­try. But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the an­them does not rep­re­sent them.”

Mar­shall sup­ported Cuban’s de­ci­sion even though she has per­son­ally stood for the an­them ever since she was a child. As Cuban wrote in an email, “she was able to pro­vide per­spec­tives that I didn’t have. It’s not an easy dis­cus­sion, but it was an im­por­tant one.”

Dur­ing the NBA bub­ble and in the past week, Mar­shall ex­plained to team em­ploy­ees and spon­sors why the na­tional an­them car­ries dif­fer­ent mean­ings to some marginal­ized groups. She also shared that some peo­ple felt pres­sure ei­ther to stand or kneel dur­ing the an­them.

So Mar­shall said the team had planned to use the be­gin­ning of the sea­son to brain­storm how it would han­dle its in-game en­ter­tain­ment at Amer­i­can Air­lines Cen­ter be­fore host­ing games with more fans.

“We never made a de­ci­sion not to play the na­tional an­them,” Mar­shall said. “We made a con­scious de­ci­sion that we were go­ing to eval­u­ate and see how we were go­ing to pro­mote unity on this di­vi­sive is­sue. I think there is with the way we’re honor­ing our es­sen­tial work­ers.”

For the past four home games, the

Mav­er­icks have in­vited up to 1,500 vac­ci­nated es­sen­tial work­ers, in­clud­ing health care em­ploy­ees, first re­spon­ders, gro­cery store work­ers and postal car­ri­ers. The Mav­er­icks plan to con­tinue this prac­tice for the rest of the sea­son, which has in­cluded trib­utes of es­sen­tial work­ers on the arena score­board. Mar­shall said the or­ga­ni­za­tion will con­tinue to brain­storm how else to show their grat­i­tude to them fol­low­ing the NBA All-Star break in early March when more fans are ex­pected to be able to at­tend games.

“They are lov­ing it. You can tell they re­ally need this break,” Mar­shall said. “You could tell they liked be­ing honored.”

Mar­shall has also par­tic­i­pated in the NBA’s ef­forts to en­cour­age the gen­eral pub­lic to re­ceive the COVID-19 vac­cine.

Two weeks ago, Mar­shall and her hus­band, Ken­neth, re­ceived the sec­ond dose of the vac­cine af­ter both be­came el­i­gi­ble be­cause of their pre­vi­ous health con­di­tions. While her hus­band has dealt with high blood pres­sure and di­a­betes, Mar­shall has a com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tem af­ter re­ceiv­ing chemo­ther­apy treat­ments 10 years ago to over­come colon can­cer.

Mar­shall said her hus­band ex­pe­ri­enced some fa­tigue and ach­i­ness while she only felt sore from the shot. Mar­shall re­ported she and her hus­band felt fine shortly af­ter­ward.

“I’m try­ing to live. It’s that sim­ple,” Mar­shall said. “I did my re­search. The NBA was re­ally push­ing for us to go to and do our home­work, and I did that.”

Al­though she called it a “no-brainer” to re­ceive the vac­cine, Mar­shall first had to as­suage con­cerns.

The Black com­mu­nity has ex­pressed skep­ti­cism to­ward med­i­cal ad­vance­ments partly be­cause of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a gov­ern­ment-backed ini­tia­tive that mis­led 400 Black share­crop­pers into think­ing they were re­ceiv­ing treat­ment when they ac­tu­ally re­mained un­treated test sub­jects. NBA coaches and play­ers have ex­pressed mixed feel­ings for re­ceiv­ing the vac­cine once it be­comes avail­able.

So Mar­shall talked to her con­cerned adult chil­dren about the ben­e­fits of tak­ing the vac­cine. Mar­shall has in­vited med­i­cal ex­perts to ad­dress team em­ploy­ees about how COVID-19 has af­fected the Black com­mu­nity. And she has over­seen its hu­man re­sources depart­ment putting to­gether a brochure with in­for­ma­tion about the vac­cine’s ben­e­fits, cor­rect­ing myths and list­ing in­for­ma­tion on how to reg­is­ter for an ap­point­ment.

When Mar­shall re­ceived the first

dose of the vac­cine last month, she al­lowed a Mav­er­icks videog­ra­pher and pho­tog­ra­pher to doc­u­ment the mo­ment.

“I felt it was riskier for me to walk around with­out the vac­cine and be sus­cep­ti­ble to COVID-19,” Mar­shall said. “It’s not like the vac­cine is a cure-all. But it’s go­ing to put my im­mune sys­tem in a much bet­ter po­si­tion to fight it, if for some rea­son I ever get it.”

The cov­eted prospect

Mar­shall learned how to be­come re­source­ful and nav­i­gate in­jus­tices at an early age.

Mar­shall’s par­ents moved their fam­ily from Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, to Cal­i­for­nia when she was 3 months old in hopes to es­cape the Jim Crow poli­cies in the seg­re­gated South. They set­tled on the East­ern Hill projects in Rich­mond. When Mar­shall be­came a teenager, though, fam­ily prob­lems emerged.

“My fa­ther was abu­sive, so we had to get out of that,” said Mar­shall, who had five other sib­lings. “My mom got us out of that. She just raised us to have re­ally, re­ally big dreams and we could do what­ever we wanted to do.”

Be­cause Mar­shall was a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tim, a po­lice of­fi­cer es­corted her to school be­gin­ning in sev­enth grade. Later in high school, her dad left and her par­ents soon di­vorced.

At that point, Mar­shall’s mother, Carolyn Gar­dener, jug­gled mul­ti­ple jobs as a high school ex­ec­u­tive ad­min­is­tra­tor and a li­brar­ian. But she of­ten stressed to Mar­shall that “it’s not where you live; it’s how you live.” Mar­shall’s mother preached the im­por­tance of both an ed­u­ca­tion and fol­low­ing their Chris­tian faith.

Mar­shall said she re­ceived five schol­ar­ship of­fers. She set­tled on the University of Cal­i­for­nia in Berke­ley both be­cause of its prox­im­ity to home and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Af­ter orig­i­nally aim­ing to be­come a math teacher, Mar­shall switched ma­jors to busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and hu­man re­sources.

She also be­came one of the school’s first Black cheer­lead­ers and first Black mem­ber of her soror­ity, Delta Gamma. That marked a turn­ing point in which Mar­shall en­joyed in­te­grat­ing with the school’s pre­dom­i­nantly white pop­u­la­tion.

“We need to take time to know each other. There are some things peo­ple just don’t know about other cul­tures,” she said. “We just got ex­posed to each other’s cul­tures. No­body thought any­thing about it. They weren’t afraid to visit the projects. I didn’t feel out of place vis­it­ing

the man­sions. We were just bud­dies. We learned from each other.”

That in­cluded Mar­shall’s dance team­mates and soror­ity sis­ters be­com­ing so en­am­ored with her Afro that they fre­quently touched it.

“I wasn’t of­fended by it. I re­al­ized that some peo­ple just have never been ex­posed to it,” Mar­shall said. “They just didn’t know. They found the whole thing fas­ci­nat­ing. These days, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t want peo­ple com­ing up touch­ing my Afro. Ob­vi­ously, we have COVID right now. But I don’t get of­fended by that. That’s not who I am. If some­body is will­ing enough and brave enough to come up, whether they’re ad­mit­ting or not that they’ve never been ex­posed to an African Amer­i­can per­son or Black hair or what­ever, then I’m not of­fended by that. I’m go­ing to help you get ex­posed.”

Mar­shall ob­served that her back­ground con­tributed to­ward re­ceiv­ing 13 job of­fers af­ter grad­u­at­ing. She nar­rowed on Pa­cific Bell, which was part of AT&T, and led to an ac­com­plished 36year-old ca­reer there where she climbed the lead­er­ship ranks. As pres­i­dent of AT&T’s bureau in North Carolina, Mar­shall be­came the first Black chair of the state’s cham­ber of com­merce.

As she tried to ad­vance in her ca­reer, how­ever, Mar­shall said she of­ten ex­pe­ri­enced “code switch­ing,” which en­tails peo­ple of dif­fer­ent back­grounds chang­ing their man­ner­isms to make oth­ers feel more com­fort­able.

When she first worked at AT&T at 21 years old in 1981, Mar­shall said she was told to take her braids out and not to wear red shoes. Mar­shall did so with­out com­plain­ing. She had dif­fer­ent thoughts at 40 years old in 2000 when a su­per­vi­sor of­fered a lead­er­ship po­si­tion on a few con­di­tions – cut her hair, change her wardrobe and tone down her bub­bly per­son­al­ity. She was also told to drop her pre­ferred nick­name, “Cynt,” and to stop us­ing the word ‘blessed.’ ”

Mar­shall with­drew her in­ter­est in the job be­cause of those racially in­sen­si­tive com­mands. Soon af­ter­ward, an­other su­per­vi­sor of­fered the same po­si­tion with­out those con­di­tions. Mar­shall ac­cepted. For nearly 17 years af­ter that, Mar­shall helped AT&T im­prove its busi­ness prac­tices. She has since done the same thing with the Mav­er­icks.

“When Mark ap­pointed me, he wasn’t try­ing to make his­tory,” Mar­shall said. “He was try­ing to find some­body qual­i­fied to do what needed to do to be done. My ca­reer at AT&T with lead­ing teams and helping trans­form cul­tures and busi­ness acu­men through 36 years, I was able to gather all of those skills.”

 ?? JEROME MIRON/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Mav­er­icks owner Mark Cuban called on Cynt Mar­shall to help im­prove the NBA fran­chise’s sex­ual ha­rass­ment and work­place mis­con­duct is­sues.
JEROME MIRON/USA TO­DAY SPORTS Mav­er­icks owner Mark Cuban called on Cynt Mar­shall to help im­prove the NBA fran­chise’s sex­ual ha­rass­ment and work­place mis­con­duct is­sues.
 ?? JEROME MIRON/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Cynt Mar­shall on at­tend­ing Cal Berke­ley: “We need to take time to know each other. There are some things peo­ple just don’t know about other cul­tures . ... We were just bud­dies. We learned from each other.”
JEROME MIRON/USA TO­DAY SPORTS Cynt Mar­shall on at­tend­ing Cal Berke­ley: “We need to take time to know each other. There are some things peo­ple just don’t know about other cul­tures . ... We were just bud­dies. We learned from each other.”

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