Gene Marshall, Director, NorthStar Bank: ‘I listen. It’s what I do.’
January 30, 2016
Retired from JPMorgan Chase
An original investor and director, Northstar Bank
Board Chair, University Area Community Development Corp.
Member, Board of Directors: Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Council for Educational Change, WEDU, TGH.
Favorite food at Ulele: Okra Fries, Grilled Chicken and Corn Salad
intervU by Michael Kilgore
You're always the coolest guy in the room. Why is that?
I don't know if I agree with you that I’m the coolest guy in the room, but in growing up with five sisters and a mother you had to be cool about everything, you know? My temperament is based on being cool with not having to change the things I have no control over, but I'm working hard to change the things that I can.
Even when other voices in a room get loud, your voice stays calm, or perhaps even softer.
Exactly. That is very deliberate. And [then] people listen to you. I learned that a long time ago. I don't speak unless I have something to say, OK? I don't ask obvious questions. When I have something to add, I'm not trying to impress anyone. I’m trying to figure out how I can make a difference.
I listen. It's what I do. I didn't know I had this talent.
How did you come to the United States from Jamaica?
My grand-aunt sponsored my mother. My mother in turn sponsored me. She was living in a one room [apartment] in Harlem. I was 19 years old. I had no friends. I had a nothing job making no money. I thought the streets were going to be paved with gold.
I said “I'm out of here. I'm going to back to Jamaica even if I have to sell coconuts to the tourists.” My mother asked me to stay through Christmas. She took me to a Christmas party in Mount Vernon [N.Y.] and I saw this young lady [Aldyth]. She was the first person I saw when I walked in.
I've been married to her for 43 years.
And I never went back to Jamaica to live.
How did you end up at JPMorgan Chase?
I had no money. I couldn’t go to college. I joined Chase because they had a great education program. I didn't really know what that meant. But I played hooky from the nothing job I had and talked to someone at Chase. I was going to go home and she said why not apply now. So I did and I got the job at Chase and I never went back to the nothing job.
They paid for my undergraduate degree at CUNY/Baruch school and graduate school at NYU. It cost me zero.
I was a kid from a little tiny island in the middle of nowhere. I didn't even live in Kingston. My wife sometimes calls me a country bumpkin. To fall into this. To be embraced by this huge organization and get this amazing opportunity … It was after that that I realized the gold I was looking for was opportunity. If you're not afraid of working hard you can make it. You can more than make it. And here I am. Still.
You stayed with Chase for 35 years. That’s increasingly unusual to stay at one company that long.
I had two chances to leave. At that time companies would try and hire you after the banks had educated you. But I started to get some really great assignments involving travel to Tokyo, London, Sao Paulo. I stayed 35 years. I left under my own steam.
Like some people, you seem busier now that you’re “retired.”
The kids are gone. My wife has her own thing. What was I going to do, stay home being bored? I was embraced when I came here. So when I retired, I could do what I wanted. And I wanted to get involved with something that was meaningful for me, something I had a passion for.
I was fortunate to be educated, with great leadership training from JPMorgan Chase. When I joined these non-profit boards, I thought, “Hey, I could still use some of that stuff.”
How do you choose which non-profits to help?
Most of the boards I'm involved with are involved with education, especially with kids K-12 in the public schools. The Council for Educational Change adopts failing schools and pumps resources into them for three years to bring them up to A/B standards.
Viewing your Facebook posts, it sometimes seems like “Where in the world is Gene Marshall?” Where have you traveled?
Africa, China, Vietnam, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Amsterdam, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and throughout the Caribbean.
You have two degrees, but your education began much earlier back in Jamaica.
I would go to the library in my little town of Mandeville and go to the library named for him – thank you, Lord Mandeville – and even though I couldn’t check out the adult books, I would go into the section and read them there. And then I would hide the book when I had to leave the library. After I finished reading it, I would put it back on the shelves. Education was very important. It showed me a way out.
What are your impressions of Tampa since coming here in 1989?
I think Tampa has come a long way. In my opinion, when I first came here, it was a small town. Now it’s a great medium-sized city: with all the amenities you could ask for. With sports teams, with fantastic restaurants like Ulele, the arts. The educational process has greatly improved. Now my friend Bob Buckhorn is putting the icing on the cake … with the Riverwalk. With development.
Now, everybody wants to come to Tampa. When I was taking the [Chase] job in Tampa, everyone said “You don’t want to go to Tampa. Your career is dead.” Not only was my career not dead, eventually everybody wanted my job. But I refused to give it up.
You set the style bar pretty high.
Here’s how I know I’m too busy: My wife says my dry cleaning bill is greater now than when I was “working” full time. But I don’t see any reason to change the way I dress. It’s my brand. I wear suits. This is who I am, OK?