Becky Sharpe makes vision a reality through building successful organizations and has a strong passion for helping people grow. She is the CEO and Owner of International Scholarship and Tuition Services (ISTS). She first joined the organization in 2002 as President and purchased the company in 2008. She has led ISTS to be named one of Nashville’s Top Workplaces and to receive the When Work Works award for exemplary workplace practices. ISTS has also made Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in America three times.
Along with her role as the CEO at ISTS, Becky is also the CEO and Co-Owner of Collegiate Sports Data, a company specializing in athletic data collection and distribution, and a Partner in WatchGameFilm, a game film management platform. Both of these organizations strive to help athletes continue their education by facilitating recruitment to top colleges and universities.
For over seven years, Becky has generously served on the board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, offering her expertise, innovative ideas and servant leadership to help ignite the potential in young people throughout Middle Tennessee. In addition, Becky is also a board member of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, Sister Cities of Nashville, Nashville Sports Council, The Private Directors Association, Nashville Coaching Coalition, and Walk Bike Nashville. With her professional success and extensive nonprofit community work, Becky has twice been named a recipient of the Nashville Business Journal’s Women of Influence awards, recognizing women in Middle Tennessee who are shaping their companies, improving their communities and paving the way for the next generation of influential female leaders.
Becky is a guest mentor at our upcoming Mentoring Matters event on September 22. Her topic of discussion is “Know Your Grow: The 8 facets to becoming your best self.” To join Becky’s virtual table, click here.
Through her professional and volunteer work, Becky’s passion for helping people grow is evident. We met with Becky to learn more about how she discovered this passion and how mentorship has impacted her career.
WHAT LED YOU TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESSES AND HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN THESE ENDEAVORS?
I always keep this reminder with me that the only reason I had an opportunity to own a business was because someone with no strings attached offered to mentor me. A gentleman approached me back in 2002 and he saw something in me that I did not see and then offered to help it grow. This was someone probably 10 years older than I, and our relationship was only ever focused on helping me grow. It was really that willingness of someone to say, “Hey, let me teach you something and let me show you how you can be a better version of yourself,” that I was willing to step into that. But none of that would’ve happened if it hadn’t been for unconditional support from someone.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR PASSION FOR HELPING PEOPLE GROW?
It really originated with how I was parented. I’ve just been very, very fortunate that I had the parents I did. I thought everybody helped other people. I didn’t know that some people didn’t let someone stay at their house for a little bit when they needed it. I didn’t understand that people didn’t give extra food away or help someone. So, I believe that it came like a language. I don’t ever remember learning it, but it was something always around me. And it’s really because my parents were that way, and they were that way because their parents were that way. There absolutely is a passed-on experience of giving back that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to.
HOW HAS MENTORSHIP IMPACTED YOUR JOURNEY?
When I first decided to volunteer to be a Big, I was doing so from a philanthropic perspective, but very quickly within the first moments of the first meeting, I realized that this was going to be a learning journey for me, too. I had a lot to learn from this young person, his family and all of his network. That was very important for me to understand and put things in perspective. My journey with my Little, that has now been over 15 years, has made me much more aware. I’d say it has removed some blind spots about things that maybe you and I take very simply, like access to food and medicine, and the ability to feel safe in your home without having a concern that you’re at risk of physical, psychological, or nutritional danger. Becoming aware of that really has helped me be more inquisitive about what else I am not aware of because I live this bubble life.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH MENTORSHIP?
I think it does need to be a two-way street, so I’m not going to just step in and say, “I should be your mentor.” If I’m lucky enough that someone feels some sort of connection and is willing to be vulnerable and trust me, then I approach it as a privilege. And then also to come to understand that just because one thing is important to me doesn’t mean it’s important to the mentee. I try to understand what right now in their life they’re energized to explore. So, if someone’s not energized to explore physical fitness and I’m yapping about the importance of physical fitness, then I’m in my world. But the idea is to really listen.
I was talking to a mentee the other day, and she was talking about working on avoiding her discomfort with confrontation, so I asked her, “Where do you think it started?” She finally identified it as something that happened during high school. And she’s self-aware and sees it as a limiting factor and wants to overcome it, so we just began to be creative about what she can do to overcome it. She said she used to dwell on things for a week, so we agreed that if she has something that’s going to be confrontational, that she can dwell on it, but only for 24 hours. After that, she has to resolve it. The whole idea was to look at it from her lens and somehow to reduce the negative impact on her.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE A MENTOR HAS GIVEN YOU?
The best piece of advice a mentor has given me was to identify the things I’m passionate about and to be sure that I’m aware of where there’s appropriate overlap in my professional life and where there’s not. In my early business career, I began rescuing people by hiring them. Helping someone’s a great thing, but if you’re looking for someone with a certain skill set and you give the job to someone just to rescue them, they’re not likely to be successful at their work and you’re setting them up for failure. That’s what led me to realize I need to do some philanthropic work separately. Because bringing people into my company because they need a job is not necessarily going to be good for them, especially if they don’t have the skillset to be successful at that job. It’s important to understand the difference between what energizes you and how it might overlap in your professional life, but how it might also conflict. And the way to get the best of both worlds is to possibly separate them.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
It’s interesting, I have a little picture on my shoulder of my older self at about 114. She’s talking to me and she’s so positive. She constantly says, “Everything’s going to be okay and you’re doing the right thing.” She’s very affirmative, but that’s my older self. If I could go back and talk to myself in my teens or early twenties, I think I’d say, “Lighten up Francis!” and to not take yourself so seriously. I’d also say to get some perspective about whatever you’re dealing with and to understand that it is miraculous that we can turn on water and drink from it. Most of the world can’t even do that. And so, although our issues are completely legitimate if we’re feeling something, I think oftentimes if we’re not aware of how they really stack up in the universe, that we hyperbolize our problems. And it doesn’t mean they’re not our problems, but just to say, you know, I’m really bummed out about this thing going on, but I can go to the refrigerator and choose the vegetable and fruit I want. Constantly putting that into perspective while respecting whatever emotional state you’re going through.
Becky Sharpe is serving as a Guest Mentor for our upcoming event Mentoring Matters, a professional group mentoring and networking event taking place virtually on September 22 from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. At this event, you’ll have the unique opportunity to spend an hour with Becky or another prominent leader of your choice. Becky will be discussing the topic: Know Your Grow: The 8 Facets to becoming your best self. All proceeds go to supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee’s programs and services.
Buy tickets to secure your spot today at www.mentorakid.org/mentoring-matters.