Cynt Marshall walks into a room of employees energized, with her favorite song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on the speaker and ready to confront the scandal within the Dallas Mavericks front office.
“I’m not gonna pretend like we haven’t had headlines and some stuff has been going on. And, what I want to do is press reset,” she told the group.
Marshall’s 100-day plan to reset is now in motion and she gave NBC 5 exclusive access to one phase of it - mandatory "Respect in the Workplace" training for all employees from the front office to the basketball court.
“Our vision, and we have one, is that by 2019, the Dallas Mavericks organization, that’s all of us, is setting the NBA standard for inclusion and diversity,” she said.
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Promoting diversity and inclusion are pillars in Marshall’s life. The married mother of four served as senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer for five years at Dallas-based AT&T before retiring after 36 years with the company in May 2017.
Three months later, she opened a consulting firm specializing in leadership, diversity and inclusion and culture transformation.
Those were the very things Mavericks owner Mark Cuban needed after a Sports Illustrated article in February revealed a hostile environment for women in the front office and allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I was disgusted. I was absolutely disgusted. It made me sick," Marshall said of her feelings after reading the article. "There is absolutely no place for sexual harassment, not at work, not at home, not anywhere."
Marshall was introduced as interim CEO of the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 26. She made it clear, she was in charge.
During the news conference, a reporter asked, “What will the working relationship be like between you two? And, Mark, you be in the business operation and things she oversees?" Marshall wasted no time picking up the answer, “OK, let me. That ought to give you a clue right there. I got this.”
Marshall described how she laid out a two-page plan for Cuban to review. He didn’t want to see it. For Marshall, it was a test and Cuban passed it.
“The person who sat in front of me and who called me was very genuine, very upset, very embarrassed about this kind of culture going on and he didn’t know about it. This person was genuinely upset and wanted help,” she said.
Marshall officially started the job on March 5 with interim gone from title. Three days into her role as chief executive officer, she launched a 100-day plan focused on four priorities.
Mandatory training sessions for all employees started last week, and she allowed NBC 5 cameras into the room for a short time as she laid our her plan:
- Modeling a Zero Tolerance Policy: "Modeling zero tolerance for any type of inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment or anything. Does that mean termination? If it's warranted, absolutely. Absolutely, if it's warranted. We have a value system. So, part of zero tolerance is, we have a value system. We have said, we won’t tolerate any behavior that does not step up to our values. So, yeah, that means termination if you can't step up to our code of conduct and our values.”
- A Mavs’ Women’s Playbook: “This is where we're really going to focus on the women; not that we're going to exclude the men," Marshall explained. "But if you look at the makeup of the leadership team prior to me getting here, the men were doing just fine. So, we're going to focus on the women; focus on mentoring women, looking at their career plans, what are the opportunities for them, making sure they feel very respected.”
- Culture Transformation that begins with perfecting CRAFTS, a set of values that include Character, Respect, Authenticity, Fairness, Teamwork and Safety: “And, safety is really important because it's about physical and emotional safety. We're all responsible for the physical safety in the office, making sure the boxes are put away, no cords, but we're all responsible for emotional safety; to make sure this is a place where we don’t have retaliation, where people are safe to speak their minds. They’re safe to raise issues and people are safe to respond to those."
- Operational Effectiveness which excites Marshall the most. This category tackles doing business such as the people strategy and policies; compensation where Marshall will explore gender pay equity; staffing where workforce demographics come into play; and talent management to look at retention and development of employees.
And, it’s in Operational Effectiveness where Marshall’s first two hires will take lead roles. Tarsha Lacour brings major Fortune 50 experience to her role as senior vice president of human resources. Cynthia "Cyndee" Wales steps into the newly created position of chief ethics and compliance officer. She, too, brings Fortune 50 experience and a degree from San Joaquin College of Law.
“HR is one thing, and that's around the people strategies, performance development, talent management, compensation, the day to day benefits and all that. Ethics and compliance? A whole separate deal,” said Marshall as she explained the new position. “Yes, they mix, but you need somebody to focus on it especially if you have a culture like the one that was described, so we created that position.”
And, she said, it just happened that both new members of the leadership team are women.
“Number one, period, they have significant experience, experience in the areas I’ve asked them to lead,” Marshall said. “And I’m glad they were women because we need a balance. Prior to me coming here, there was nobody on the leadership team, no women, and we're trying to change that. I’m hoping we can get to least 50/50 because the data shows, research shows, that you make better decisions, you operate better as a leadership team, that you're more effective, when you have a diverse group of people around the table.”
Marshall is willing to lay all of it on table, to show Mavericks staff, fans, sponsors and the community how she will help the organization rebound which is why she granted NBC 5 the exclusive access.
“I want employees to know how important they are. They know they’re important but they’re especially important to the community right now and people are interested in what’s happening with us. And, so I wanted to let you in to see what we’re up to,” she said.
Transparency is another pillar in Marshall’s life.
She openly talks about the events that shaped her: being born in segregated Birmingham, Alabama where her mother attended the same 16th Street Baptist Church where a bombing in 1963 killed four girls; growing up in the housing projects in Richmond, California; witnessing her father shoot a man in self-defense, surviving an abusive household, and later, as adult, beating colon cancer.
Education, a knack for math and a degree from the University of California Berkeley paved Marshall's path out of poverty and put on her course to become one of the most respected women in corporate America.
Along the way, she married, adopted a boy and two girls, and raised the brother of her son as her own, too. Her kids grew up in a home focused on education and sharing what they had with others.
“I have tried to model to them the scripture that says to whom much is given, much is required,” said Marshall, who describes herself as a woman of prayer. "My morning routine is I get up and I go in my prayer closets, and I have a talk with the Lord. "
She herself feels blessed at the opportunity to help the Mavericks get past the scandal and set the course for a better future.
“I want the new headline to be the Dallas Mavericks organization is the standard for inclusion and diversity in the NBA and then the next headline will be in sports and the next one will say in the world,” she laughs. “We'll just keep it going.”
"We are going to transform. We are going to have a different culture than the one that was talked about in Sports Illustrated. And I already see that. I already see that,” she said.
Case in point is the purple basketball Marshall brought to our interview. It was a gift from the women in the Mavericks organization after a work event celebrating International Women’s Day.
“All the women signed the card, and it said, ‘Cynt, we are so grateful to have you as part of the Mavs family,” she read. “Thank you for the support to lift us all up a little bit higher. And that’s all I want to do is lift them up a little bit higher. And we’ll do that for the men, too, but I have a particular focus on the women right now.”
“And in talking to the men, they don’t want to work in a place where women aren’t treated fairly,” she said. “So, what I'm telling them, say you're in a meeting, and this happens, and it happens at the Dallas Mavericks just like it happens about everywhere else. Sometimes, women are trying to, especially if you are the only one at the table or very few of you, you’re trying to get your point across and sometimes you're drowned out. What we need our men to say is, ‘Excuse me, Deborah is trying to say something. Or my goodness, we like his idea? That’s the idea Deborah just gave us a few minutes ago when we didn't respond to it,” demonstrated Marshall. “So, to have men drive that change will help. And, I will tell you the men at the Dallas Mavericks are doing that. I’m already seeing that.”
Marshall has her plan in place, and she’s also sure in why she’s doing it.
"I’m doing it because those two women stopped me as I was leaving Mark’s office and said, ‘We need you to help us.’ That’s why I'm doing I'm doing it for my two daughters. I’m doing it for my two sons to show them what the right response looks like. I’m doing it because it needs to be done, and I was asked to do it, and there was no reason to say no,” she said.
Marshall, whose given name Cynthia quickly became Cynt for Cynt the Sprint when she ran track, admits she’s in the fourth quarter with no time to spare.
“All these headlines kind of get to me because I really don't like being out front, but it comes with the job. And, so to the degree it helps these 140 people or the 1,200 at the arena (American Airlines Center), to the degree it helps women, that it helps tell the #metoo story and how to respond to it and how to move beyond it, to the degree it helps, I’ll do this all day,” she said. “I’ll do the headlines, all of this because I us want to serve. That's all. It’s not about me. I am such a blessed woman. This is not about me. It’s about serving.”
How long will she be around to ensure her plan is executed successfully and that the culture change she started will be completed?
“I'm committed at least long enough to get this launched and implemented. So, that’s at least three to five years. I believe in three to five year business plans, and I'm committed to the three to five year business plan, and then we’ll see what happens after that. Y’all may have me around for a long, long time," she laughed.