From the Editor

Drescher: Ain't no mountain high enough to stop AT&T's Marshall

Executive EditorDecember 8, 2012 

Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina


Cynthia Marshall, AT&T’s top executive in North Carolina for the past five years, has been a different kind of business leader.

Corporate CEOs make difficult, unpopular decisions in a stormy, challenging business climate. They must be cool and analytical. Sometimes they order layoffs and outsourcing and diminished benefits. The bottom line is the bottom line. We don’t often see their human side.

Not so with Marshall, a former University of California-Berkeley cheerleader with a magnetic personality and relentless faith in her fellow human beings.

Marshall, who turns 53 next week, has been promoted to a new job at AT&T’s headquarters in Dallas, where she starts full time on Jan. 2. She has worked in Raleigh and lived in Cary with her husband and three children, one of whom is now a student at High Point University.

Marshall has spoken frequently to business and community groups in North Carolina. If you missed The Cynt Marshall Show during the past five years, you missed a good one. Here’s a summary of what she calls “Cynt’s Ten Step PEP Talk,” in which PEP stands for Professional, Encouraging and Personal advice:

1. Always remember where you came from! If you don’t, you might lose your compass.

2. Do the right thing! Never compromise your integrity.

3. Know why! “Why” is sometimes more important than “how.”

4. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train! Bad stuff happens to good people.

5. Respond gracefully when bad stuff happens! People don’t remember what happened; they remember how you responded to what happened.

6. People matter. That’s all that matters! Never discount someone because of his or her position.

7. Embrace each other. We’re all we have! At the end of the day, we are each other’s keepers.

8. Protect what’s important to you! Do whatever it takes to safeguard the time, people or activities that are a must ingredient to your sanity.

9. Get MAD – Make A Difference! Find a cause to make you mad enough to take action to make things better.

10. Find your passion and your purpose and get busy! If you find what you truly love, it will never feel like work.

Marshall hands out a piece of paper with these points and inspiring photos; that’s how I know there’s an exclamation point after each of the 10 steps! When she speaks, there also are lots of exclamation points.

Marshall’s favorite song is “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” made famous by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

There ain’t no mountain high enough

Ain’t no valley low enough

Ain’t no river wide enough

To keep me from getting to you

No wind, no rain

Or winter’s cold

Can stop me, baby

As she talks, Marshall weaves in personal anecdotes, including the pride she has in her three adopted children, who are thriving.

The News & Observer’s John Murawski wrote last year about Marshall’s battle against colon cancer, which had spread into her lymph nodes and blood vessels. For six months, she was on leave from her job leading AT&T’s 7,500 employees in North Carolina.

There were mountains and valleys. Rivers, wind and rain. Winter cold. But Marshall attacked cancer and chemotherapy with her trademark energy and optimism. She’s healthy now.

She developed her PEP Talk shortly after moving to North Carolina in 2007, when she was asked to speak to a women’s conference in Raleigh. She speaks to different kinds of audiences and tailors her speech accordingly. But even when she speaks in a business setting, she works in her PEP Talk in some form.

“Sometimes it catches people off guard,” Marshall told me this week. “Sometimes they expect some boring business speech. Somebody told me that once. When they start to hear something that hits close to home, it gets into people’s spirit. They start to think about different things that happened in their life.”

Marshall, a member of Crosspointe Church in Cary, tells audiences of her faith and how important it is to her. She has prayed about her PEP Talk and how she can use it in Dallas. Her new job, as AT&T’s senior vice president of human resources, will focus more on internal employee issues and less on customers and the public.

But she says she’ll figure out a way to give her PEP Talk. I don’t think anything could stop her. Ain’t no mountain high enough.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or On Twitter @john_drescher

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