Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall was the first black cheerleader at the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1970s. She spent nearly four decades climbing the corporate ladder at AT&T. And today she is the first black, female CEO in the NBA, having taken the helm at the Dallas Mavericks in 2018 to clean up the league’s toxic work culture. But Marshall, 60, says she didn’t truly come into her own until more than 20 years into her career. “I just did my job and did what [my bosses] told me to do,” Marshall tells CNBC Make It.
Marshall started as the first African-American female to ever lead an NBA basketball team in February of 2018. She says she wanted to take the job “for the sisterhood.” Since taking the helm, Marshall has been focused on hiring a diverse executive team. There were no women or people of color on the Mavericks’ leadership team when Marshall started. Today, 50% are women and 47% are people of color, according to a Mavericks spokesperson.
She also brought her authentic leadership style to the Mavericks. When she started there, the first thing she did was hold one-on-ones with employees. She wanted to learn about their lives, from childhood to adulthood, not just about their career aspirations. “I [just] had a one-on-one with one of the vice presidents last night for two hours and probably an hour and a half of that was just personal talk,” Marshall tells Make It on Jan. 30. These days, Marshall says she tries to think of “the person first and the employee second” when making important decisions at the company.
How does unemployment work for an NBA player? I guess I’m wondering how you train. Don’t say what specific gym, of course, but is there a random Dallas area gym that you’re just showing up to. If I had a – I don’t know – Lifetime Fitness pass, might I randomly run into a vaguely familiar 6’7 dude shooting and lifting? Ryan Broekhoff: Yeah, you might, now that we’re back in Dallas. You might see us around some spots. But just using some contacts I’ve made to get somewhere to work out and I guess, not have privacy, but make sure that I can have a free court (so I’m) able to stay ready for whatever does happen next.