Written by Kati Knowland
Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina, is a leader who is passionate about people, both on the job and in her personal life.
On the job, Marshall, who is more likely to greet you with a hug than a handshake, recognized early in her career, as a 21-year-old supervisor of a group of long-distance operators, that her job is all about people.
“I learned that people matter and that’s all that matters,” she said. “That’s who gets the results, they deliver the goods. And that’s the foundation of what I do every day; it’s all about people.”
Marshall has been with AT&T for 29 years in a variety of roles, and she said the first thing she does when she takes on a new position is meet one-on-one with each employee, no matter how many there are.
“I need to know the people who are walking through these doors every day,” she said. “I always say that the people that get out of bed in the morning are the same people who walk into our doors — problems, issues, dreams, whatever they wake up with. Those are the people who walk into our doors. So I need to know who those people are so I can serve them first.”
Outside of the office, Marshall is also focused on people — both her own kids and the entire next generation of leaders. She and her husband have adopted three children and hope to adopt more in the future. She is also an active advocate for public education, serving on the General Assembly’s Committee on Dropout Prevention and on the North Carolina New Schools Project Board of Directors.
Balancing her many roles can get tricky, but Marshall said that the secret is to know what’s important and what’s not.
While she goes through periods that are busy at work when she may not be home as much, and she lets her family know ahead of time and plans accordingly. But then she also makes adjustments so that she can be there for the important things, taking off the first and last days of school every year and making arrangements to be there for her kids when she needs to be.
“I’ve been known to get on a plane, fly home for a soccer game on my own dime and then fly back to the conference, because I know what’s important to me,” she said. “But I also know when something may not make the priority list. I know which balls I can drop and they’ll bounce back, and I know which ones I can drop and there might be glass on the floor.”
She said that it also helps not to try to segment her time into work time, family time and church time. She has her prayer time in the mornings on her way in to work, and she has been known to bring her kids along to work functions.
She added that she has been fortunate to have a supportive husband, Kenneth, who is now a stay-at-home dad to their three children.
“Balance is relative,” she said. “I truly believe you can have it all, you just may not be able to have it all at the same time, and it may not look like what your neighbors have. But you’ve got to decide what’s truly important to you.”
That’s the same advice she gives to young women starting out in management roles. She tells them to pay attention to the three P’s — find your passion and your purpose and keep your perspective.
“People have their own stereotypes about what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing and how you should approach a job,” she said. “I always tell them just to be who they are. Know what you want and what your style is and what works for you. Know what makes you tick every day, what part of your job is your passion.”
Marshall said she is fortunate to have found a job she is passionate about with a company she loves.
“I chose a good company and a good industry,” she said. “Whatever your love is, whatever your passion is, you can find it in this company. And that turned out to be true for me.
“I really do love my job.”