People, Profiles

Always a maverick: Alum Cynthia Marshall, NBAs first African American female CEO

By Carol Ness

Cynthia Marshall as a Cal cheerleader in the 1980s
Cynthia Marshall as a Cal cheerleader in the 1980s

Berkeley alumna Cynthia Marshall took over as CEO of the Dallas Mavericks this year — becoming the first African-American female CEO in the NBA. She inherited an organization in crisis, after rampant sexual harassment, incidents of domestic abuse and a toxic culture came to light.

But Marshall, a lifelong pioneer, is familiar with navigating difficult situations. She grew up in Richmond, studied business at UC Berkeley, was the first African-American cheerleader at UC Berkeley in the late 1980s and the first in her family to graduate from college. She was also the first black head of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. During her more than three decades as a high-up at AT&T, she adopted four kids and survived colon cancer.

In a telling anecdote that appears in a recent story about her in California magazine, Marshall tells interviewer Kelly Dunleavy O’Mara about the day she arrived on the Berkeley campus in June before her freshman year, to enter the Summer Bridge program.

“I looked up at Sather Gate and I just started crying,” she says. “I was just overwhelmed.”

“I remember telling myself,” she continues, “‘Girl, you gotta be big.’”

And she has done that all her life — drawing on a seemingly bottomless well of resilience and moxie.

Read more on the California magazine website