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article imageOp-Ed: Coaching CEO's and Entrepeneurs is a 'puzzle' she likes to solve Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Mar 2, 2014 in Business
Seattle - Being nominated by the U.S. Small Business Administration this year for outstanding achievement is an honor. And no doubt, a highlight in the life and career of Mary Marshall who is an advisor and coach to CEO's across the nation and around the world.
Helping entrepreneurs to succeed is her passion, especially emerging ones. Marshall teaches classes to small business leaders through Interise and the Small Business Administration.
She has just published a book called "Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle - The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed."
"I like putting things together, figuring things out, for me it's the puzzle aspect that I enjoy most about business," she said. That is why she considers the 'puzzle' in the title appropriate. Getting a business started or to the next level is like solving a puzzle.
And, like a puzzle what emerges can be at first frustrating but then amazing. Marshall initially did not set out to advise executives and become a entrepreneurial coach. "I originally managed a scuba diving shop in Oregon. It was a family-owned business, I was 23 and did not have any formal business training. And, I did everything," she said.
 Putting Together The Entrepreneurial Puzzle  is Mary Marshall s first book. It is based on years of...
"Putting Together The Entrepreneurial Puzzle" is Mary Marshall's first book. It is based on years of experience working with businesses and entrepreneurs.
Courtesy of Mary Marshall
It was not easy back then (more than 30 years ago) and for a woman in those days, she faced difficult challenges, including divorce, raising children and rebuilding her resources when money was an issue. Her college degree was in psychology and she wanted to go to graduate school. Yet, being a single mom, she had to work. Working pushed Marshall out into the world. And, even though she said, she did encounter discrimination as a woman, her interest in business never wavered. "I read everything I could," she said. And, she pondered many questions and faced each challenge as an opportunity to be considered competent.
In terms of business, it was a lot of hard work. But she enjoyed the experience, looking to every detail and overseeing all aspects. "Yes, I made mistakes and there were times when I felt like I was in over my head," she said. "But, mistakes are part of that 'puzzle' so one must recognize them and move on."
After leaving the scuba shop business, she worked in mergers and acquisitions where she really learned how to evaluate small to mid sized businesses and what made them successful or not. Marshall worked very hard putting in long hours. She continued to view obstacles as opportunities rather than as road blocks. "I believe challenges are just opportunities and you need to look for the openings and possibilities," she said. Marshall was fortunate to stumble upon a small high tech company involved with bar coding and data collecting.
Marshall could see there was a future in bar coding as computers, laser and digital technology was advancing. Taking the job as Sales and Operations Manager for that company she helped it to grow from about $250,000 annually to a revenue of $5 million.
She went from being an Operations Manager to Vice-President in a very short time. And, naturally she then became a business owner and President of another barcode company called Dynamic Systems.
After selling Dynamic Systems in 2000 to her partner, Marshall decided to use her expertise as a consultant with a focus on mergers-acquisitions, operations management and organizational development. One of most common mistake she sees when a company or business is taking off is not having enough capital. "Most businesses start out with about half the needed capital, then play catch up during the early years".
"Business owners often under-estimate the capital needed for expansion so they don't leverage enough credit or venture funds well." "This is really critical, she said, because this is how a new business or expanding business will fail, simply because they run out of money; I have seen it happen a lot," Marshall said.
The other common mistake is not hiring the right people and firing those who are not a good fit. "This is a tough one for entrepreneurs because they generally do not have a lot of experience in this area and it's very costly when done wrong". As Marshall continued in her work as consultant and coach she became acquainted with Vistage International, a well-respected peer advisory membership organization. Vistage serves more than 17,000 CEOs and senior executives in 15 countries.
She found working as a Chair (leader) for Vistage groups in Seattle very rewarding. She ran four CEO groups in the Seattle area. She has received many accolades and awards within Vistage. In 2008 Mary accepted a staff position with Vistage International to run the Western Division, which at the time was half of the United States.
She managed the growth of the division, and training and development for approximately 200 Chairs. Each runs its own Chair Practice. Mary was promoted in 2009 to also run Training and Development for the entire organization; which includes Chair Selection and New Group starts in addition to her role as Western Division Senior Vice President.
I know Mary mostly from her work as an executive at Vistage," said Dave Logan, co-founder and senior partner at CultureSync, a management consulting firm. "The Tribal Leadership Intensive program, he said, offered by CultureSync is generally a multi-year program. When someone finishes, and is accepted by the community, they became an “Approved Tribal Leader. Mary is in that program," said Logan.
"She is an outstanding advocate for small business," he added. "She’s a teacher and mentor at heart, and her concern for small businesses is always obvious to that community." "Mary is well loved in Vistage, Logan said, and in the CultureSync community, as well."
Marshall believes in giving back to the community. Aside from her career in business, she also belongs to civic and sport organizations like Women Impacting Public Policy and the Executive Women's Golf Association.
"Nothing is more important for business women than having a strong, united voice with the common goal to build full economic participation for our community," said Barbara Kasoff, president and CEO of WIPP headquarters in Washington DC. "Mary Marshall is a leader focusing her efforts on building advocacy and support, said Kasoff. "And, speaking and writing in our behalf to bring our issues to national attention."
"It’s women like Mary, she noted, who lead the way to a more collaborative, knowledgeable and active community for all of us."
Speaking on behalf of the Seattle Chapter of The Executive Women's Golf Association, past-president Yvonne Gitchel said, "Mary brought her exceptional leadership, coaching and managerial skills to the non-profit sector by serving on the board of EWGA." "Mary served in various positions and ultimately as President of the association."
"After her tenure on the board, said Gitchel, Mary continued to serve within the organization by facilitating the board’s annual planning retreat and was the keynote speaker at the organization’s annual kick-off event in 2011." "Mary is a natural at coaching and developing business skills in others," noted Gitchel. "She has an uncanny ability to hone in on peoples strengths and to help them capitalize on them."
All the experiences she has had and her ongoing lecturing inspired her to share her knowledge. Her book, as Marshall explained it, was simply to be as a step by step instruction guide. "I would usually recommend a book or two on a specific topic," she said, "however, there was not one book that I could refer to that had the basics". And, she still recommends more in depth books to clients and groups she speaks to.
Some books, she noticed, take quite a while to relay their message.
Mary wanted to get right to the main points. "I realized that there really is no practical workbook or step by step guide out there," she said.
For example, she points out, "most business owners and executives don't know how to manage people." "Often they take too long, assessing a person's performance and don't make the decision to either move them to another spot or let them go." "Identifying what each person does well is important. Having the ability to recognize a person's talents and strengths, helping them to be part of a team is crucial," she said. Marshall also noted that young business owners must not over-estimate their skills. Knowing clearly what a business owner can do and what she or he needs to find others to do is very important.
Another downfall according to Marshall is when a business owner or CEO does not know how to delegate tasks or projects. "This can cause lots of setbacks and mismanagement," she said. Which brought her to the topic of mergers. "A good merger seldom ever goes very well. In fact, there never really is a true merger, there is always an acquirer and an acquiree."
"Typically the cultures between the two businesses or companies are different and the more dominant one will often win out over the other." Yet, she noted that, "it all boils down to values."
The values a company shares in common, set forth by the CEO and or executives helps a business to survive and thrive. "CEOs must establish their core values and really share those with the team they have built." "Teamwork and collaboration are key to success."
Marshall noted that usually about 60 percent of leaders in a company lack an understanding of that shared culture within a company or business. "Where as, contradictions, lack of alignment, failure to identify with one's company and workers sets the stage for a company's demise." "Understanding the companies values, living those through the culture and ability to communicate those clearly lead to executed visions for company success".
Marshall's guidebook is as simple as her basic philosophy, "Grow your company, grow your people." When a CEO understands that this is his or her role, and delegates the rest to the management team, success follows."
Yes, Marshall says, "I have several ideas for more books." And, with all the positive responses she's been receiving for her work, she noted "I have had multiple requests to do a version for non-profits." Even with that encouragement to write and publish more books, for now, Marshall says, "I plan to continue working with entrepreneurs; to help them achieve their goals as well as to continue speaking about my book."
To learn more about Mary Marshall and her work, visit:
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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