When Julie Marshall graduated from Malvern High School and headed to the University of Arkansas, she thought she wanted to be a teacher. Her father, Lyle, thought she should pursue a business degree as he had.
After a year in college, she listened to her father, switched to a business degree program and never looked back. Now, decades later, Marshall is vice president for partner management and development at USAble Life in Little Rock.
Her work ethic began long before she obtained her role at USAble. When she was in the third grade, she asked her grandfather if she could help him in his landscaping business.
"It would help him, and I could earn money mowing yards for elderly women who lived in a local mobile home park. I used that money to buy stock in my daddy's company [Hoover Ball Bearing in Ann Arbor, Mich.] and had enough left over to buy a new pair of plaid tennis shoes," she says.
"My dad arranged with the local stockbroker to only sell me a couple of shares of stock because you have to buy more than one or two. I walked downtown by myself and bought my stock.
"I always had a very special relationship with my father, and he was always the person who guided me and thought I should be in the business school. And I said 'I think I'm going to be a teacher.' And we know how long that lasted.
"He always took me under his wing. He was always that influence in my whole life, and when I thought I couldn't do something and he told me I could."
Marshall is fairly certain she still owns those two shares of stock and while that may not have been the start of what has become a long and successful career, it was the first of many good business decisions.
FIELD FULL OF MEN
When Marshall graduated with a business degree from the University of Arkansas in January 1976, women were not that numerous in the field. She took a job with Armstrong Cork in Lancaster, Pa.
"Armstrong had something they called Armstrong Manor where all of the trainees lived," she says. "There were just two women among the 50 who were there."
The program for the young trainees ran from January to April and was held in the middle of the Armstrong headquarters building, a room that didn't have windows.
"When we left for work it was dark and when we left for home it was dark. We never got to see the sun," she says.
Despite a lack of sunshine, Marshall says it was a "very, very good experience" that built character. Trainees have to make a presentation to the company's senior officers.
"I did fine, but it was a lot of all-nighters," she says. "I promised myself when I left Fayetteville, I would have no more all-nighters. That went down the drain pretty quick."
Midway through the training, the company threw a curveball. The trainees were put on a train to New York and given a list of architects. Trainees were told to call on those architects and introduce them to new products. Company officers said they would be checking with those architects to see if the students had accomplished what was expected.
"I was barely 22, and I was in New York," Marshall says. "We didn't have cellphones, you couldn't call up Google Maps. We did have a map of the city, but we had just a list of architects and their addresses, and you [had] to figure it out."
After the training, the trainees went to a territory in the United States.
"There were several open but Mobile, Ala., was the only one in the South, and I felt like I could do better if I could get back to the South. I would have more confidence," she says.
The Mobile territory was geographically large but had never been a good producer for the company, Marshall says.
"They said you could have it, but you might not be successful. That was a real motivator," she says.
Marshall was able to read blueprints as part of her job with Armstrong and used that to her advantage.
"The job was full of life experiences; it was two years packed full," Marshall says. "Think about it. I was a 23-year-old calling on contractors in the South, going to commercial job sites with a hardhat on.
"There were strange looks but also whistles. It was all about maintaining a serious look. I was always in a suit and standing tall."
She spent two years with Armstrong in Pennsylvania and Mobile and during that time, began a long-distance dating relationship with Lynn Marshall, the man who would become her husband. At the time, Lynn Marshall was living in Miami and was working for a commercial mortgage company that had been bought by Citibank.
The two met in Malvern and were friends throughout high school and college. He was a native Arkansan and the two of them decided to take a chance and move back to familiar surroundings. Now, he spends at lot of his time at Bearskin Farms, the family business, but also spends time at Malvern National Bank, where he is chairman and chief investment officer.
In Arkansas, Julie Marshall took a job with a small construction firm, primarily doing residential projects. When a friend told her about an opening at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Marshall applied and was hired as a national accounts representative.
From there, Marshall, now 65, had a succession of jobs with Blue Cross over the next nine years -- then came a life-changing event, a move to a unit of the company that specialized in life insurance.
"When I went to Armstrong, I thought this is what I thought a job was going to be, I get to really do something," she says. "But it wasn't as satisfying as coming to Blue Cross and coming [to USAble]."
During what became 40-plus years with Blue Cross and USAble, Marshall held several jobs.
"At Blue Cross I was a sales representative, an individual producer, a contributor," she says. "Then I became a manager. And it's not like you manage people, but you coach them. Teaching people is the most rewarding. You have to work through others to be successful."
Her most rewarding job was moving to USAble, the life insurance portion of Blue Cross.
"When I moved over to the life company from Blue Cross, I was the 39th employee and we worked in one state. Now, we have 500 employees and we're in 13-14 states," Marshall says. "The most rewarding is working along that path, figuring it all out and working out that road map is what got us here."
One of the employees who spent a long time with Marshall was George Burks. He was with her at USAble but has since gone back to Blue Cross.
"She is a good friend, and I worked for her a long time," says Burks, who began working with Marshall in 1994. "Basically, she was a boss first, then that transitioned to mentorship. She really helped guide my career and helped me with things early on that I didn't understand. She was very patient, and I learned the proper way to do business."
The two get together occasionally, sharing thoughts and working to make the business better.
"I don't know anyone who works harder," he says. "My challenge was to see if I could match her intensity. She is so focused on her work and created an expectation to take care of a customer."
When Marshall retires, and she's not planning to do so anytime soon, she would like to do more traveling and work in her garden. If the past is any barometer, the traveling will be done with her daughter.
"We have been traveling every summer for as long as I can remember," she says. "[South] Africa was a really special trip. It was a new experience. We both loved being outdoors in Africa, learning about the society and culture. The people were so hospitable, yet they have so little in comparison to American standards. We both would love to go back."
MOVING TO ARKANSAS
Marshall's parents moved from Howell, Mich., to Malvern for her father's job.
"I thought it was hot," she says of her first impression of the Natural State. "In Michigan, it was green and we had a lot of lakes. Here it was green and there were a lot of lakes, but the accents were different."
Looking at the pros and cons of moving, Marshall says her family would say they were lucky her father accepted his promotion. But were the opportunities better in Arkansas?
"That's a difficult question to answer," she says. "I don't know what I missed having left there. I probably would have ended up going to the University of Michigan. Here, I went to the University of Arkansas.
"I would go back every summer, but I didn't really see anything that was missing, to be quite frank with you."
Marshall spent time with her extended family on a recent return to Michigan. She says there were eight offspring and all of them got together.
"I can say I was as successful as some of them and my children more successful," she says. "In Arkansas, we have a lot of opportunity. And I don't think a lot of people understand that."
To demonstrate that, Marshall uses the June 8 wedding of her daughter, Jessica, and Ghislain de Kertanguy. There were 208 out-of-town guests from England, New York, California, Texas and New Jersey. She says letters she received had "unbelievable" comments about Arkansas.
"It was really fun to see that unfold throughout the week and how people looked at Arkansas and how people looked at what we have here and what a beautiful state we have," Marshall says. "People don't know what we have here. We see that when people come here to work. Arkansas is kind of a hidden gem. I think we are fortunate."
The wedding was obviously a family affair.
"Her role in my wedding was for everyone to have a good time, and I was focused on that as well," Jessica says. "It was really special for us to share our city and state with so many people around the country and world.
"Interestingly enough, our wedding day was the day the [Arkansas] River crested, so there was no shortage of things happening. Being from a farming family, we had been talking about it since the fall.
"People didn't have an expectation. Everything my mother does, she does with all of her energy and her intellect and her commitment. You see that in projects she takes or on a family wedding."
The change from Michigan to Arkansas was major for Marshall and her family. So was the change when she moved from Blue Cross to what is now USAble.
"It was a very small company, and I came over as the director of marketing," she says. "I went from managing people to being an individual contributor again. There wasn't a playbook to go by. We were young, we were new, we sold through Blue Cross staff. We had to figure it out."
And that's what they did. The new employees started meeting trying to figure out what to do, so they started playing with what-ifs. Among the ideas were working with other Blue Cross offices, an idea that is still in use.
About the same time, Marshall's daughter Jessica was 3 and she was pregnant with her son, Lambert, a fact she was reluctant to tell anyone. Soon she became involved with her family and some worthwhile causes.
"But at the same time, what do you do with this company?" she says. "We worked together and planned, talked to the board about it and started growing it."
Marshall wasn't really sure she wanted to work in the insurance industry when she took the position with Blue Cross. But she did want an opportunity, and Blue Cross fit the bill.
"I said I would try it for a year. I tried it and liked it and said let's do another year," she says. And that was more than 40 years ago.
"Every step of the way has been rewarding," she said. "Whether it's been working with people, whether it's been situations ... it's been something you can feel good about."
Rewarding, yes, but did she expect the success that has come?
"There has been a lot of planning to make it come true. You think you had a vision, and it's how did you execute to make that vision come true along the way," Marshall says. "Where we're lucky now is we have people who bring perspectives from other companies both inside and outside our industry that helps us see it even clearer."
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: April 18, 1954, Howell, Mich.
• MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY WOULD INCLUDE: All my family, including my parents (deceased) being home for a holiday dinner.
• ONE THING FEW PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT ME: I like to spend time in the garden and arrange flowers. One of my favorite 'haunts' is the Flower District in New York.
• IF I COULD TRAVEL ANYWHERE FOR A VACATION, I WOULD CHOOSE: Africa. My daughter, Jessica, and I visited South Africa in 2017, and I would definitely like to travel to Africa again.
• I GOT NERVOUS WHEN I MET: My first boss.
• WHAT I REMEMBER ABOUT MY FIRST JOB AFTER COLLEGE: How challenging the training program was and how much I had to learn. Training lasted for three months and every day was a new learning experience; it taught me that life is a continual learning process.
• MY FIRST JOB IN ARKANSAS WAS: I worked for a small company for about a year and then went to work for Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield as a national account representative.
• IF I RETIRE IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS, MY LIFE WOULD INCLUDE: Spending time with family, traveling, gardening, reading and volunteering where I can make a difference.
• ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE ME: Determined
“Every step of the way has been rewarding. Whether it’s been working with people, whether it’s been situations … it’s been something you can feel good about.” -Julie Marshall
High Profile on 10/13/2019