“What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: Choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” Benjamin Franklin Fairless
Gloria Sharrar (IS’82) embraces Fairless’ philosophy. Her career as Senior Vice President, Technology & Operations – Business Continuity for Bank of America exemplified the advice. Sharrar’s responsibilities included planning the bank’s business continuity strategies and disaster recovery. She spent much of her career finding solutions to technology issues and creating analytical processes for storing and retrieving critical information.
And, she loved it!
To grasp the uniqueness of Sharrar’s career, comparing her career path to the timeline of the personal com- puter (PC) demonstrates how she was able to create a very unique place in the world for herself. She entered the program in 1978 when it was still called the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). She had spent 9 years teaching school and loving it prior to starting the program. She realized she would one day be bogged down by the repetitive nature of the job. Wishing to stay excited and enthusiastic about her work, she began reflecting and searching for an alternative career.
It happened that Sharrar’s husband worked for UT in administration at the time and he commuted to work with a fellow employee, Dr. John J. Knightly a UTK professor. Through the connection, Gloria Sharrar discussed many topics about records and information management with Knightly and came to understand the dif- ference between data and information. She was fascinated with the subject and wanted to learn more. When Knightly recommended she apply for the program, her initial response was “I don’t want to be a librarian.” Fortunately Sharrar learned about broader scope of Information Sciences and earned her degree in 1982.
At the time, the school was a stand-alone entity at UT and occupied Temple Court. About 30 students were in the program. The school had two computer terminals which were housed in a converted janitor’s closet and required sign-up sheets to schedule time on them to complete homework assignments. Keep in mind that IBM introduced its first PC in 1981. It ran on a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor and used Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system. Does this take you back?
As Sharrar approached graduation, Knightly again stepped in to offer guidance. He knew of an accounting firm in Knoxville that wanted to store their information on these exciting new computers. They were looking for someone to manage the process. From this beginning, Sharrar carved out a self-employed business. As her business grew, her knowledge grew. She didn’t realize how unique her skill set had become until she was approached by Arthur Andersen Consulting (AAC) in 1984. They had been awarded a huge project at the Ten- nessee Magnavox plant to integrate the warehouse and sales computers. No one at AAC had experience with desktops. They had computer science backgrounds and were conversant in coding.
Sharrar applied her Information Sciences knowledge to fulfill the job requirements by translating the data and information needs so that the right information in the right format was available to the right employees. She introduced systemization to the project adopting the Library of Congress naming conventions. It turns out the librarian’s world was of interest to Sharrar once she expanded her definition to view a librarian’s craft as taking collections of work and information, and classifying and cataloging them so that items can easily be stored and ultimately retrieved.
“SIS taught me to think methodically and mine deeply for problem solutions,” said Sharrar. Using the knowledge and applying it to the project put Sharrar in a very unique situation. AAC offered her a position in Chicago when the project ended. Knowing the travel and work hours would be relentless, Sharrar and her husband opted to pass on the opportunity. Sharrar’s AAC project manager did suggest that she explore opportunities with banks because they were beginning the process of converting from manual systems to desktop computers. On that suggestion, she sent out resumes (unsolicited) to banks in a handful of desired locations. She was hired by Virginia’s Sovran Bank. Eventually through multiple mergers, the bank became Bank of America.
Sharrar served on transition teams with each merger. She created her own job at the bank by presenting her unique skills and recommending solutions. She was originally assigned to the IT area of the bank and required to take six months of training to learn how to write computer code. Because the company was unsure of where her skills fit into the organization at that time, Sharrar had to work within the confines of the IT department.
The unnecessary training was endured in order to ultimately get to the task of converting the manual operations to a PC network. She came in on time and on budget, for which she received a top employee award.
“Technology is a means to an end. It helps us be more productive and should help us solve problems, not create them,” said Sharrar. From 1986 until she retired in 2008, Sharrar was assigned to every major transition team. She and her team worked on the front end analysis of the projects and detailed the requirements. At one point, she recognized a major issue within an upcoming merger and alerted the legal department. The alert helped her company avert a serious problem and earned her yet another top award.
In banking, many regulatory requirements have to be met, much like the HIPAA requirements in the health-care industry. Being able to adeptly assess a body of knowledge and understand its structure is a first step for information professionals as they tackle a project. Individuals with the self-esteem and the self-confidence to step forward to present the solution have the potential to advance their career. Sharrar said being able to move with agility and assurance was important to her success.
Interestingly, it was her experience as a teacher that provided her with the people skills she needed to bridge the gap between the technical side of her work and the communication connection she needed to accomplish the work.
She found that writing thousands of procedures and processes over the years was also aided by her teaching knowledge. She approached the writing by breaking down the process step by step. She used sensitivity to the differences in people’s visualization ability to guide her instruction.
After a hugely successful career, Sharrar is now defining her world as a retiree. She keeps a finger on the pulse of information sciences by staying active with her four granddaughters. She helps them with their technology interactions and stays active on social media. She still relishes the opportunity to learn new things.
Within the SIS student web pages is a handy, often-referenced page on “What can I do with this degree?” Gloria Sharrar could give a simple answer to this prospective SIS student question, “Pretty much anything you want to do with this degree!” Question. Explore. Learn. Discover. Then go out and create the career of your dreams.