After graduating from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Sharon Pryse learned what she didn't want to do with her career after selling life insurance for a year.
Even though it initially meant a cut in pay, Pryse said she decided to give up selling insurance plans that were not always the best investments for consumers and started working with Valley Fidelity Bank where she quickly rose from a $325-a-month clerk to the bank's youngest senior vice president. While still in her 20s — and in an industry then still dominated by male managers — she ended up heading the bank's employee benefit services.
If you go
Sharon Pryse will speak to the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute on “Say Yes, Then Figure it Out” at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Register at: https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=E342410&id=35
"I loved what I did, but when the parent company (First American Bankshares) wanted to move me to Washington D.C., I didn't want to leave Knoxville," Pryse recalled Friday.
So at age 35, she started The Trust Co., which has since grown into the biggest woman-owned bank in the state that manages nearly $3.5 billion of assets.
Pryse will talk about her career path in a luncheon address to the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute (CWLI) next Wednesday about her mantra to "Say yes and then figure it out."
Kim Shumpert, executive director of the CWLI, said Pryse's personal story and leadership advice can serve as inspiration for other female leaders.
"We are thrilled to continue our theme of 'What If?' for the year as Sharon helps us answer the question: 'What if you could build the perfect personal and professional team?'" Shumpert said. "Women understand the importance of having a tribe to support us. As a highly effective businesswoman, Sharon will share the secrets to her success and how women are an integral part of that success."
Pryse is one of four women heading banks in Knoxville (at First Tennessee, SunTrust, BB&T and the Trust Co.) who previously worked at Valley Fidelity Bank and went on to other businesses.
"Starting the Trust Co. was really about taking control over what my destiny," Pryse said.
That's an important lesson for all workers, Pryse said.
"I could sell people life insurance and made good money when I got out of college, but I hated that," she said. "It's not about just making money, and it's about taking control of your career and taking responsibility for your decisions."
Under her leadership and the growth in retirement planning and 401(k) plans over the past three decades, The Trust Co. operates offices in Knoxville, Johnson City and, since 2016, in Chattanooga, and does business with clients across the state with 80 employees.
"I like he fact that we are still locally owned, have career paths for 80 employees, and we can give back to our community," she said. "I hope to have controlling interest of this company until my death and, when I die, I hope a senior management team will buy my stock, and I say that in my will."
Pryse said she has enjoyed the chance to use her influence and wealth in working on a variety of civic, environmental and philanthropic causes in the Knoxville area, including as board chairman of the Knoxville Chamber, Leadership Knoxville, YMCA, United Way and the United Way's annual fundraising campaign. She is a trustee for the University of Tennessee and a board member U.T. Foundation and the Knoxville Zoo, where she recently helped raise more than $36 million for an expansion.
"I got involved early in my career with projects that I enjoyed and I found it's a real pleasure to give back to the community and build relationships with others who do — and it has happened to also benefit our business," she said.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340