Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall Addressed Sands Team Members During Women’s History Month

Apr 24, 2024 8:15 AM ET
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As part of Women’s History Month 2024, Sands recently welcomed Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, as a guest speaker for the In Focus DEI Conversation Series, which provides corporate Team Members with perspectives from diverse leaders in the corporate, nonprofit and public sectors.

With the same majority shareholder ownership, the Dallas Mavericks and Sands enjoy a “first cousin” relationship, as Marshall and series leader and moderator Ron Reese, chair of the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) council, discussed during the session.

Sands invited Marshall to share her journey to assuming one of the top leadership positions in professional basketball and her work to build inclusiveness in a top sports organization and corporate America

Marshall drew on stories from her 2022 book, “You’ve Been Chosen: Thriving Through the Unexpected,” which chronicles her journey in overcoming a turbulent childhood, overt and subtle racism in her career, and a life-threatening battle with cancer. Like the book, the In Focus session exuded the effervescent positive outlook and deep wisdom Marshall cultivated through these experiences and her enduring faith.

Marshall joined the Dallas Mavericks as CEO in 2018. Though she was the first Black woman to become a CEO in the National Basketball Association – a milestone that should have been widely celebrated – her appointment on the heels of diversity issues in the Mavericks’ organization brought more skepticism around her ability to succeed than accolades.

Yet, under Marshall’s leadership, the Dallas Mavericks organization has become an award-winning, best-in-class operation – marking another challenge she overcame.

Marshall brought extensive leadership experience to the Mavericks, particularly in the area of DEI. Before joining the team, she served in a variety of positions, including as chief diversity officer, with AT&T during her 36-year tenure. After leaving AT&T, she founded her own consulting company to guide corporate clients on DEI issues and organizational change.

Marshall had been working with a leading global corporate client to develop and implement a strategy for institutionalizing an inclusive culture when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban called about an “opportunity.” Originally intending to turn it down, the chance to make an impact in changing organizational culture was too enticing to pass up.

“He (Cuban) told me, ‘I need a leader. I need someone who could transform cultures.’ I went home, prayed about it, talked to a lot of different people and just said, yes. I just felt called to do it … even though I didn’t know the business of basketball. He told me don’t worry about that. He told me his request was to create a great place to work. Together, we laid out a vision and a set of values.”

With this roadmap, the Dallas Mavericks organization continues to set the standard for workplace culture, innovation and corporate social responsibility, and is a two-time recipient of the NBA’s Inclusion Leadership award.

Marshall and Reese kicked off the In Focus session by discussing the value of observances such as Women’s History Month and Black History Month.

“Women and Black people have contributed a lot to this country and to this world,” Marshall said. “We don’t always recognize the amazing contributions of these groups of people … These months are an opportunity to appreciate just the richness and diversity of the people who make this country great.”

Marshall talked about facing career challenges as she was often the first woman, the first Black person or the first Black woman in a role. From pressure to change her appearance to the way she spoke, Marshall complied in the early years of her career. At one pivotal point, however, she took a stand.

On the cusp of becoming an officer at AT&T, she was told she had to change her hair and name (because what is the name Cynt, she was told) and lower her speaking voice when she assumed the position.

“So when it got to that point, I just told (the hiring leader) … I feel like you’re fundamentally trying to change who I am,” Marshall said. “And I actually knew that wasn’t the company that I worked for – but that’s where she was going with it, so I turned it down.”

Marshall’s commitment to authenticity paid off. After a call from the chairman of AT&T, she officially accepted.

“He said, ‘Let’s start all over again. I know exactly who you are.’ And he described me to a tee. He said, ‘That’s the person who we want to walk into our doors as an officer tomorrow.’ And he gave me this great pep talk. And then he offered me the job again. And I said yes. And I love to tell that story.”

Marshall relayed the experience as an example of strong leadership and recognizing the value of authenticity and diversity.

“I like that story because it shows the powerful words of a leader, and how a leader can actually free somebody into being themselves, which is what we all want,” she said. “We want people to walk in the door as their authentic self every day and give us the best of what they have to offer.

“That’s one of our values at the Mavericks, along with character, respect, authenticity, fairness, teamwork and safety, both physical and emotional safety. That’s why the authenticity piece is so important to me, because somebody gave me the okay to be me and to bring my full self to work.”

When Marshall began the challenging work of turning around the Mavericks organization, she relied on the vision of leadership she formed in witnessing and practicing great leadership.

“It’s simple for me; it’s three Ls,” Marshall said. “If I want to be an effective leader, I need to do these three things: listen to the people, learn from the people and love the people. And that’s what I did, I listened to these people. I met with every single employee in the first 90 days. I just wanted to know who they were. I wanted to learn from them. I wanted to get to know them and love them as people.”

Beyond the three Ls, the turnaround required deep organizational changes, including upheaval in the leadership team.

“We had no women in permanent leadership positions, or people of color. We very quickly formed a diverse group of people.”

She shared the success of these changes as a call to action for all companies. “We need women at the table we’re on. If you want to get it right, you need to have everybody at the table, including women. My team is 50% women now. I’m very, very proud of that.”

Through all of the challenging experiences Marshall has faced in her life and career, three things have been her sustaining strengths: her faith, her family and having purpose.

“I am a woman who is driven by purpose,” she said. “And I believe that I am here for a purpose. And there are some things that I need to get done to fulfill my mission on this Earth. I believe that for all of us. I’m very optimistic because the way I describe it – I have receipts.

“My husband is battling cancer right now. And he just had a stem cell transplant a couple of weeks ago. And I remain optimistic because I have receipts. I got through domestic violence as a child. I got through my dad breaking my nose. I got through four second-trimester miscarriages, and a daughter who died at six months, and the Lord blessed us to adopt four amazing kids, three of them totally abandoned, abused and neglected.

“And I look at their stories and what they’ve gone through – those are my receipts. I’ve gone through cancer myself. My husband had brain damage. And they said he would never walk or talk again. He’s 95% back to normal. I just know it’s going to work out, somehow that God and great people always, always show up. I don’t hide what’s important to me. I know it’s all going to work out. So that’s what I do.”

The In Focus DEI Conversation Series for Sands corporate Team Members is one of the company’s core DEI programs, which aim to build a collaborative and integrated environment in the workplace and at the company’s resorts by removing systemic barriers and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups.

For more information on the company’s DEI initiatives, read the latest ESG report: https://www.sands.com/resources/reports/.