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USF Alumnus On Front Edge Of Education

When giving advice to people just starting out in their careers, Jim Marshall thinks of the marine decorator crab.

Jim Marshall & Dean Moez Limayem

The decorator crab walks along the ocean floor and takes things along its journey to change its own shape, to blend into its environment.

"You need to be a decorator crab," Marshall said, comparing professional development to the crab's survival mechanism. "Take what you need along the journey that helps you conduct the journey."

That's a lesson Marshall has learned over several decades in business. Now the CEO of Promethean, a company that provides interactive technology for education, Marshall said his success stems from continuing to learn at every point on his career path, including as a management graduate of USF's class of 1975.

And learning is the theme of Marshall's current job. With his work at Promethean, Marshall wants to transform the way educators teach. Marshall joined Promethean in 2011 as president of North American Markets, based in Atlanta. Previously, he was CEO of Spectrum K12, a company that produces software solutions to improve the performance of at-risk and special education students. Prior to leading Spectrum K12, he was CEO at Agentis software. And as vice president of Apple's U.S. Education Division, he spent three years working with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and current CEO Tim Cook.

Marshall said although the business world is radically different from the classroom environment, some of his professors at USF were able to prepare him for life after college.

"I had several outstanding professors who were like Abraham Lincoln -- they wrapped their lessons in stories, which made the classroom lessons come alive to me," he said.

Coming to USF as a transfer student, Marshall also switched his major from pre-med studies to business. He found business classes, with their concentration on real-life examples instead of textbook prose, "...much more interesting with deep human elements that were real-life examples of how the world runs."

Marshall said that before he was hired by tech company Burroughs -- now Unisys -- straight out of college to do management training, he never saw himself working for a tech company. But that experience enabled him to achieve his ultimate goal of being a CEO. Marshall's advice for students who dream of being an executive someday is to learn to seize the moment – advice reflective of his own career path and the surprising opportunities that he found along the way.

"What is your primary aspiration?" he asks young people. "Put that aside and forget about it. What can you do today? What can you do this year? Focus on that."

Now, as Promethean CEO, Marshall hopes to help students from elementary school to college feel that their education is as relevant as he found his business courses.

The company manufactures products that allow teachers to use collaborative tools such as tablets and interactive whiteboards to teach their students, and the Promethean products also help them get a better understanding of how well students are learning. Promethean's rise coincides with an increased emphasis on real-time data in education because the tools the company provides can give teachers data on how every student in their classroom is understanding, interacting, and progressing with the lesson.

Promethean recently donated some of this interactive technology to the Muma College of Business, including interactive tables, "whiteboards," and tablet computers, and Marshall hopes USF can be at the forefront of pioneering uses for this technology in higher education.

"It's a personal attachment to the university," Marshall says of why he wants to work with USF. "I don't ever want to try to sell USF anything. I come back here because they gave me so much and that's where I got my start. I want to give back some of what USF gave me."