Mark Cuban is used to being in charge. He’s built his larger-than-life reputation on being a hands-on personality, taking pride in knowing the minutia of his projects and especially that of the Dallas Mavericks. Monday afternoon, however, when newly-hired interim CEO Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall was introduced at a press conference, it was clear that Cuban wasn’t in charge. Marshall was.
Marshall joins the Mavericks with the mission of cleaning up the organization as faces its biggest internal challenge. Last week, Sports Illustrated released a scathing report detailing a pervasive culture of alleged sexual assault and domestic violence within the Mavericks’ offices. The report names three employees—president and CEO Terdema Ussery, vice president of human resources Buddy Pittman, and Mavs.com beat writer Earl K. Sneed—as primary purveyors of a “toxic culture.” None of them are with the team any more. (You can read all of MMB’s coverage of the scandal here.) Even though Marshall’s tenure with the team just began, she is already hard at work.
”Although we are in the early stages of our response, we’ve identified three immediate areas of focus: the investigation, culture transformation, and operational effectiveness,” Marshall said in a prepared statement Monday with Cuban by her side. “Independent investigators are in the process of conducting interviews with current and former—we’re covering both—current and former employees. The purpose of the interviews is to make sure all issues and allegations are surfaced and addressed. We need everything to come out. Allegations will be thoroughly investigated and any required disciplinary action will be administered swiftly.”
Marshall joins the Mavs after 36 years with AT&T, most recently as senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer before her retirement from the company in 2017. Her no-nonsense language in the press conference speaks to her career with AT&T. While there, Marshall led efforts to overcome unconscious biases, develop women leaders, and create a highly lauded culture of diversity and inclusion.
“Cynt is not coming in here to be the savior of the world,” Marshall said, speaking in third person. “What I have learned is that it takes a team, it takes a village, and we will get this done. We’re talking about 140 people. But a culture transcends even beyond just our workplace.”
This speaks to her overall attitude on how workplaces should function and her approach to fixing the Mavericks. That, as well as a conversation with leadership at AT&T, is what drew Cuban to Marshall and led to him calling her. After talking on the phone, the two eventually met in person. After that meeting, it wasn’t long before Marshall agreed to come on board because she was convinced the Mavericks aligned with her beliefs.
“This is my opportunity to be part of the solution with a lot of other people who are trying to help with this issue,” Marshall said. “…And I told [Cuban], ‘I have to think about this. I have a brand. I worked very hard for the brand I have, and I can’t attach my brand to something I can’t trust, and something that is not reliable, and something that’s—I don’t mind flawed, because we’re all flawed to some degree—but if it lacks integrity I can’t attach my brand to it.’ And by the time I left his office and spent the day with some folks, I said ‘I absolutely will attach my brand to this organization.’”
Marshall also met with head coach Rick Carlisle for 15-20 minutes Monday, and he introduced her to the players as well. After the meeting, it was clear that she left a positive impression on the Mavs coach.
“She’s going to be great,” Carlisle said. “She’s dynamic, she’s charismatic, and she’s extremely smart. And she’s intolerant of any bullshit. That’s pretty clear.”
For his part, Cuban sat mostly silent during the 24 minute press conference, a stark contrast to the boisterous persona that he has cultivated since purchasing the Mavericks in 2000. He meekly deferred repeated questions about his knowledge of events to Marshall while offering that everything will come out once the investigation, headed by Evan Krutoy and Anne Milgram of Krutoy Law, is complete.
Until that time, he will won’t be saying much, taking a backseat to Marshall who will be doing all the talking. And after Monday, she appears to be saying all the right things.
“I am determined, and Mark is determined, that the Dallas Mavericks will be the standard,” Marshall said. “We’re laying out a vision that says by 2019 the Dallas Mavericks will be the standard. We will be leading the way in inclusion and diversity.”