Cynt Marshall had never heard of Mark Cuban when he cold-called her in 2018.
Finally returning his messages eventually led to her appointment as CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, Cuban’s NBA team.
“He talked to me about the kind of culture transformation and leadership that he wanted for the business side of his basketball team,” Marshall recently told Yahoo Finance, adding that she believed she could help him turn the NBA franchise into a “great place to work.”
The pairing almost never came to fruition. Cuban sought out Marshall, a longtime executive who spent nearly four decades at AT&T before becoming the NBA’s first Black female CEO, for the role “because she is amazing, forceful, dynamic, nurturing,” he told CNBC Make It in 2020.
But Marshall had no idea who the billionaire “Shark Tank” star was, and initially ignored his messages.
“I honestly didn’t know who Mark Cuban was,” Marshall told the Dallas Observer in 2018. “But my husband and kids were like, ‘Ma, you have to call him back now!'”
Even once she picked up the phone, she needed some convincing. An investigation had recently revealed evidence of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct in the Mavericks’ workplace going back roughly 20 years, predating Cuban’s purchase of the team in 2000.
“‘What woman in her right mind wants to work here?'” Marshall told Fortune in October of her thinking at the time.
Speaking with multiple women within the organization who felt she could make a meaningful difference helped, she said.
So did her conversations with Cuban. Since the two were initially strangers, their first phone call simply involved “getting to know a little about each other,” Marshall told Yahoo Finance.
At the time, Marshall had retired from AT&T and was running her own consulting firm focused on leadership and diversity. Cuban laid out the issues facing the Mavericks’ workplace on the phone, Marshall said.
“Some things were going on on the business side that needed to be addressed,” she said, referring to what had been described as a “toxic” workplace and a lack of diversity among the Mavericks’ executive leadership.
Marshall said Cuban’s honesty about the changes that needed to take place helped convince her to take the role.
“These are my words, but he wanted to create a great place to work for his employees,” she said. “He was very transparent, very candid [and] honestly emotional about what he was learning about the organization.”
Cuban has a history of connecting workplace culture and team chemistry with success, in both sports and business. Marshall praised his ability to set that tone, noting that he’s “not a micromanager.” Instead, she said, he’s available whenever she needs him to be.
“He’s there for guidance and creativity and making sure we’re thinking out of the box,” she said.
Before Marshall joined the franchise, the Mavericks had no women or people of color among the organization’s leadership team, she told CNBC Make It in 2020. Today, the leadership team is 50% women and 50% people of color, and the NBA awarded the Mavericks with the league’s 2022 Inclusion Leadership Award.
But Marshall doesn’t appear to be resting on her laurels.
The Mavericks “still have a lot of work to do as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she said. “It’s about not just counting numbers, but making the numbers count.”
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