SKIRTS in the Boardroom: an interview with Marshawn Evans
Interview by: Debbie Hepton
As one of the nation's leading experts on the art of maximizing human potential, formerEntertainment Attorney, Marshawn Evans is Founder of ME Unlimited (Marshawn Evans Unlimited), a corporate life-enrichment consulting firm focusing on peak performance, diversity, women’s empowerment and leadership.
ME Unlimited consults with Fortune 500 companies and HR departments on leading peak performance strategies, while offering insight from the world of professional sports, employment law principles, and competitive industries.
As a pioneering woman in the world of professional sports, Marshawn is also President of EDGE 3M Sports & Entertainment – a full-service brand management agency responsible for elevating the profile of elite entertainers and athletes in the NBA, NFL, WNBA, and Major League Baseball (www.edge3m.com).
Her successes in the classroom and the courtroom took her to the infamous boardroom as one of Donald Trump's handpicked cast members on NBC's hit show “THE APPRENTICE.” Marshawn was the only person to lead Trump’s all-women’s team to a victory as the Project Manager for an upscale, yet in your face, Lamborghini advertising campaign. She has worked on marketing initiatives for Tiffany & Co, Rolls-Royce, Vitamin Water, Gatorade, Kraft, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Star Wars: Episode III, Bally Total Fitness, Dairy Queen, Best Buy and Outback Steakhouse.
A former U.S. ambassador to the International Summit of Achievement in Dublin, Ireland, and a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Marshawn practiced as a commercial litigator and employment lawyer with one of Atlanta's most prestigious law firms.
Recently named one of Atlanta’s Power 30 Under 30, Marshawn has been featured by Glamour Magazine, Upscale, Monarch, Diversity Business Magazine, USA Today, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, ABC, Fox News, MTV and NBC.
Marshawn is author of SKIRTS in the Boardroom: A Woman’s Survival Guide to Success in Business & Life (Wiley 2008).
DH: Hello, and welcome. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind writing SKIRTS in the Boardroom?
Despite the impressive strides women have made, they still are not encouraged to go in to business. As an admitted student at Georgetown University Law Center, I was discouraged by the administration from applying for a joint degree with the MBA programme. So, challenges remain. SKIRTS in the Boardroom was written to provide straightforward insight and inspiration for women who are serious about taking their careers (or their businesses) to the next level. Over the years, most of my mentors have been men. I have learned that women working together and with each other in a way that is both strategic and sincere can be a tremendous business asset. SKIRTS is an acronym and the first ‘S’ stands for Sisterhood. I believe that if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together. This is a fundamental premise of the book.
DH: In your book, you say that “a woman’s success is limited only by her unwillingness to adapt.” Can you elaborate on this?
Versatility is an invaluable business asset. The only thing that is truly certain is the fact that change is inevitable. Being able to adapt to different people, places, and changing circumstances in the marketplace is one of the keys to longevity in any industry. When times are tough, if you cannot adjust then you’re most susceptible to being left behind. Today companies are forced to adapt to new market trends, consumer spending habits, and higher costs of doing business. As such, they have to streamline their workforce for purposes of efficiency. A woman’s willingness and ability to adapt (better yet – remain ahead of the curve) is what makes her indispensable.
DH: In SKIRTS in the Boardroom, you discuss a four phase confidence process: centre, investment, practice and reflection. Can you briefly outline these phases for us?
In my industry, I help companies, brands, and power players to maximize their potential. Often times, the first hurdle is getting someone else to see the possibilities that lie ahead, and then getting them to pursue their goals with bold self-assurance. Instead of just telling someone to believe in themselves, I walk them through a four-step process of growing their confidence. Phase one is your centre. Your confidence is solid because you have a strong self-image, you know who you are and what you have to offer. Phase two is based on your investments. Your confidence grows as you make strategic deposits (such as additional education and experience) in your career. Phase three is comes from practice. Your confidence becomes more seasoned as you gain the experience necessary to develop an expertise in your field. And, phase four is a product of reflection. By taking time to reflect upon your experiences, good and bad, you develop the savvy and know-how to play the game.
DH: You discuss four leadership styles – labelling them Red Skirt (aggressive), Pink Skirt (assertive), Orange Skirt (passive-aggressive), and Beige Skirt (passive) – how would you describe your leadership style?
Without a doubt, I’m naturally a RED SKIRT. Like most entrepreneurs, I was born rather aggressive. There are advantages to being a red skirt. I am very proactive and opportunities rarely pass me by. To me, it’s a numbers game – the more you try, the more success you experience. However, there are disadvantages as well. Red skirts tend to be less patient and experience severe cases of tunnel vision. True leadership is about being able to adjust to and meet the needs of those around you, not to simply get others to do things your way. As such, there are times that I have to tone it down and “put on” my Orange or Beige Skirts depending on the situation. Usually, I strive to wear a Pink Skirt as I think the “pink” style of leadership is most effective and most conducive to a variety of circumstances.
DH: You have said that being one of the top five Miss America finalists has affected your current, successful business ventures in ways that you “could never have imagined.” How is this so?
Being a competitor in the Miss America system taught me about the importance of focus and preparation, and the importance of developing a personal brand and building a solid network. My official platform was youth crime prevention through leadership development, and I was able to serve as a national spokesperson for the “Invest in Youth for a Safer Future” campaign. I was an ambassador for over 40 national youth-serving agencies. At the age of 21, I was lobbying in Washington, DC, organizing political events, fundraising for youth initiatives, lecturing at national conferences, and networking with the presidents and executive directors of some of the largest non-profit organizations in the world. I got a head start on knowing how to navigate and create a substantive professional network. I also learned early on the power of communicating effectively to establish myself and leverage my brand. I now manage the brands of corporations, professional athletes and entertainers, as well as their philanthropic endeavours.
"The best thing (some would say it’s the worst thing!) about being an attorney is that you learn how to analyse complex situations and think strategically. In representing brands and individuals, I have a methodical approach to brand maximization."
Who knew that my Miss America experience mixed with my legal background would lead me into the world of personal development, branding, and entertainment law. Back then my brand was juvenile justice advocate. Today, my brand is peak performance strategist and branding expert. The titles may be different, but the principles for success are the same.
DH: How far do you think your experience as an attorney has helped you in your current roles – dealing with brand management, public relations and consulting on peak performance strategies?
The best thing (some would say it’s the worst thing!) about being an attorney is that you learn how to analyse complex situations and think strategically. In representing brands and individuals, I have a methodical approach to brand maximization. At EDGE 3M, our firm will research a strategy before taking a step. We are going to think about the consequences (good and bad) to a particular method, and because of my legal background I know what questions to ask. I will also put extra safety measures in place that most agencies overlook.
For example, we not only manage a brand, we take in account the intellectual property issues that may arise in terms of copyrights, trademarks, and patents. When we negotiate a marketing contract, I’m making sure that the auxiliary terms are most favourable to my client and that the loopholes are as narrow as possible. I enjoy being a lawyer. But, I really love being able to combine creativity with risk management. At the end of the day, a lawyer’s job is to provide reliable counsel and advice...as a peak performance strategist I get to provide motivational insight and guidance on how to live your best life as well. There is nothing more rewarding than getting to provide inspiration and information at the same time!
DH: As the Founder of Marshawn Evans Unlimited, can you give us an insight into this company and your day-to-day role?
ME Unlimited is a corporate consulting firm specializing in performance strategy and life enrichment. Our firm works with Fortune 500 companies ranging on diversity, leadership, maximizing human performance, and career readiness strategies. As the Managing Principal, I oversee the development of our workshops and training materials. I also personally write my commentary for magazines, trade publications, and I write all of the content for my books. We have a very talented and motivated group of individuals who work tirelessly in scheduling events and seminars. This year, we have moved into the realm of event production. We are producing a national series of women’s diversity collegiate summits taking place at campuses across the country, and we’re preparing to host the inaugural Women on Diversity Conference as well. My role varies day-to-day. One day, I’m developing a seminar. Another day I’m on a plane preparing to deliver a keynote, and the next I’m working on a proposal for corporate sponsorship or the next book. But, I’m an entrepreneur...I thrive on unpredictability.
“ME Unlimited and EDGE 3M have different focuses, but they allow me to fulfil the same ultimate objective: helping people to maximize their potential and realize the tangible fruits of their vision.”
DH: You are also President of EDGE 3M Sports & Entertainment. Can you tell us about this firm and how you came about starting up two rather different companies?
EDGE 3M is a full-service branding agency. The 3M stands for media, marketing, and management. Our media division provides a complete array of public relations, media training, and visual branding services including graphic and web design. Our marketing division provides corporate brand management and produces branded events ranging for celebrity charity weekends to product launches and award shows. Our management division is responsible for elevating the brands of elite entertainers and athletes in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, and Major League Baseball. ME Unlimited and EDGE 3M have different focuses, but they allow me to fulfil the same ultimate objective: helping people to maximize their potential and realize the tangible fruits of their vision.
DH: You were a contestant on the fourth season of NBC’s The Apprentice. How did it feel to be the only woman during the season to lead an all-female team to a victory as the project manager? What do you think you did differently to ensure that you succeeded where the others failed?
I stepped up to be the project manager in the second week of the show. It was an interesting time because everyone was still getting to know each other, and the women’s team was coming off of a loss in week one. The task at hand was to develop an advertising campaign for Lamborghini. You would think that the men’s team would have had an advantage on this one. However, I urged the team to go into the task without any preconceived notions. In the end we were teachable. We listened to what the executives actually needed, not what we thought they wanted. I was able to create collective buy-in where everyone had a collective stake in the outcome. The executives at Lamborghini were very impressed and there was no question that our end product was superior. It felt very good, but there were some valuable lessons learned as well.
DH: On reflection, is there a particular experience from your time on The Apprentice that you have learned from and utilized in subsequent projects?
I learned the importance of organization in process of project management – especially in high intensity situations. I had to take time before the project started to outline a preliminary game plan. Doing so is necessary for effective leadership. The biggest challenge on the show is that you do not have very much time to plan anything. You immediately hit the ground running, so you have to think very quickly. In my businesses now, organization and strategic delegation is what helps me accomplish my goals – and I have a lot of them!
DH: You have practiced as a commercial litigator and employment lawyer, appeared on The Apprentice, are the Founder of Marshawn Evans Unlimited, President of a brand management agency and now an accomplished author. All this achieved while under the age of 30! Very impressive! Where have you found the time to fit it all in? And where do you plan to go next?
I am a very focused person, but I also strive for balance. Being balanced and centred mentally, spiritually, and physically makes it much easier for me to remain motivated. Plus, it is necessary for stamina, perspective, and peace of mind. I enjoy the challenges in front of me. As far as what is next, my plan is to continue to grow each of my companies. At EDGE 3M, we’re expanding our client roster aggressively and taking on more corporate branding projects. At ME Unlimited, we’re entering into the event/conference/seminar production realm, which is going to be very powerful. I’m in the business of empowerment and equipping others. The firms are still relatively young and we have a long way to go before we are household names – but we WILL get there!
DH: To women starting out in the business world, what is the best advice that you could give them?
Number one, be confident. Confidence is the condition precedent to sustainable success. Number two, know your brand and your unique value proposition. Always focus on delivering value, not just being different. And, number three, build a very supportive network. You need people on your journey – no one can do it alone. Someone has to buy your product or service. Take the time to create authentic, win-win relationships with others. Lastly, do not expect your path to be easy. Anything worth having is worth working for. Plus, if you’re going to fly at high altitudes, you should expect a little turbulence.
DH: On a lighter note, if you had the opportunity to have lunch with any business leader – past or present, who would it be, and why?
I would like to have lunch with Harvey McKay. He is an icon in the world of business speakers. And, he just so happened to judge me when I competed in the Miss America competition. I wrote him a letter afterwards. He responded with a kind note and also sent me the entire collection of the business books he had written. I still appreciate that to this day.
DH: Finally, are there any closing comments you wish to make?
I invite people to stay in touch with me and sign-up for my newsletter at www.marshawnevans.com or www.skirtsintheboardroom.com. It is full of valuable tips for living life as a peak performer and having a purpose driven career. For those interested in assistance with marketing or branding, tap my team of experts at www.edge3m.com. I enjoy hearing from others and invite people to post on my blog or just shoot me an email.
You can order SKIRTS in the Boardroom from Amazon.com
SKIRTS in the Boardroom: an interview with Marshawn Evans