Henderson, MarshaCareer Profile: Marsha Henderson

When Marsha Henderson joined the search committee for Vice President for External Affairs at The University at Buffalo, she never expected that she'd become a candidate herself. However, late in the search process, Marsha realized that the job would provide an ideal opportunity to bring together her executive experience and her passion for serving her local community and alma mater.  She assumed the newly created position in 2005 after a 34-year career in the banking industry, where she most recently was President of the Western New York District for Key Bank. 

While educational administration might seem to be worlds apart from corporate America, Marsha notes that her time in banking saw major changes to the industry that in many ways mirrored the campus reorganizations taking place at UB when she assumed her post. As VP for External Affairs, she is responsible for coordinating outreach activities with all of the external communities the institution serves, maintaining governmental relations, and leading philanthropic, communications, and public relations initiatives. The large network of business and community contacts she developed as a banking professional and active volunteer support the university's efforts to build strategic partnerships with industry, alumni, government, and civic leaders. 

As an undergraduate geography major at UB, Marsha intended to pursue a master's degree in urban planning. She began working in a bank to save money for her graduate studies and ended up liking the industry and corporate environment. Advancement in her newly chosen field required specialized training, so she completed an MBA in Finance at Canisius College.  Nevertheless, Marsha has drawn on her geography background in both her corporate and higher education careers. "Geography gave me a framework for analyzing data, questioning assumptions, and understanding the interplay of various forces on the results," she explains. She also observes figurative connections between geography and the business world: "I often think about a course I took in political geography that focused on how the 'lay of the land' influenced history and politics. In leading an organization and advocating for change, a leader needs to be cognizant of the 'lay of the land' -- why things are the way they are and how to approach change." 

Despite the difficulties facing higher education, particularly given recent reductions in funding, Marsha finds her work to be "a challenge, but a worthwhile one." She adds that, "The opportunity to work at a research university where new knowledge and discoveries occur is exciting, along with the fulfillment of seeing young students grow in their lives and career directions." She points out that higher education continues to be a growth industry because of the advanced skills and education demanded by today's transforming economy. Because many applicants have the academic credentials for these jobs, she stresses that the ability to work collaboratively, listen well, and understand varying points of view are essential qualifications." The difference a candidate needs to bring is in the less-defined qualities of personal presence and real interest in the mission of the organization."  For Marsha, it is these "intangible qualities" that "take someone from being good to great."

This profile was published in 2011 by Dr. Joy Adams.