Cynthia Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks.
While on paper its just another name, Marshall represents a historic transformation in the team’s culture. Best known for bringing DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) into a previously corrupt system, Marshall’s energy has helped shape the current state Dallas Mavericks: a community focused NBA organization known for giving back and being unique.
The Cox School of Business welcomed Marshall, the first Black woman to ever become the CEO of an NBA team, into its program to give a recap of her journey to the top of the league and offer some advice for young professionals moving forward in their respective careers.
Cynthia was born and raised in Oakland, California. She witnessed her dad shoot someone at age eleven, and throughout her childhood she was escorted by a police officer on her walk to school. She comes from humble beginnings, bouncing from house to house in the projects of Oakland. She was also victim to her father’s abuse, and held a lot of trauma as a kid. However, her mother gave her four keys to success at a tender age: “Dream, Focus, Pray, Act”. By living through these principles, with “a Bible in one hand” and a “math textbook” in the other, she made it out her troubled environment.
After graduating with a business degree from UC Berkeley, Marshall was offered 13 jobs. She had a wealth of options to choose from, and decided to settle in as a supervisor of a teleoperator company at the young age of 21. She came into the job with a “servant’s heart” under a fast track management program, and was set to become a director within five years.
However, Marshall decided to take a lateral move into another role that she was more passionate about. This was Marshall’s first lesson for young people looking to find success and contentment in their careers: just do you. She talks about “being real intentional” in whatever workspace you’re in. Instead of just flowing through the motions, Marshall says that having a vision and knowing what you’re doing and constantly trying to improve on it is a key to long-term success.
When reflecting on her failures, Marshall mentioned how “doing the whole job” is an important element of living your truth.
“You have to own your career” she said.
While Marshall live by her own standards and refuses to let anyone else dictate her life, she does believe that working for a company means that you have to give your all to it. There’s a certain balance between family time and relationships and actually doing the work and fulfilling the obligations the company has.
Marshall also offered genuine, realistic advice for amateurs in the workspace who are trying to blend their passion(s) and purpose. She states that you should be practical and not be afraid to separate your passion with your purpose. To her, passion is an “uncontrolled emotion” about a certain thing; it’s something that feeds you and energizes you. Purpose, on the other hand, is “your calling”. Often, these two don’t align, and that’s okay. In today’s more flexible workspace, you can find time for both.
Marshall’s purpose is to give back and help others, and she lives by a saying no matter where she is working or what she’s occupied with in life.
“What is there to do? Who are you to touch?” she commented.
These two principles allow her to look outside herself and be a part of something bigger for the betterment of others, no matter how small or big of job she’s in.
After setting the NBA standard for DEI, Marshall looks to keep advancing her values within her workspace. She believes in integrating “value-branded” employment within the Mavericks organization, and by “bringing people together”, she wants to encourage community courageous conversations to implement real changes in the DFW area.
Marshall is currently working with the DRC (Dallas Regional Chamber) to host events that bring young professionals together and inspire motivated, young leaders, to serve their communities. She wants to see others drive for “sustainable change” like she’s done.
One way you can join Marshall in her movement for change is by going to mavs.com/mavstakeaction/ and being a part of grassroots communities to volunteer, and work towards bringing diversity and positivity into the city.
Marshall is huge on having a rally of good people around you at all times. She encourages young college students and professionals to find four types of people around you to help guide you throughout your life. A pusher, sponsor, lifter, and mentor. Having these people allows you to take in different perspectives about you and your actions, and helps grow your character and nourish your skillset.
One of Marshall’s closing points was an emphasis on finding a village, and staying true to it.
“A village was always there,” she remarked.
Whenever you are going through any type of conflict in life, having a support group around you to help lift yourself up goes a long way.
Marshall’s speech at SMU was a message of inspiration alongside a word of advice. Her remarks lit up the room as young professionals from across the country tuned into her story. Marshall continues to be one of the most decorated and recognized CEOs in the world of the NBA. She continues to bring good change to DFW and her efforts are applaudable and appreciated across the city.