Written by: Shawn Whitsell|photography by: Barbara Potter
Sheila Gibson, a once-shy little girl from Oak Ridge, Tenn., and self-proclaimed “tomboy,” thrived in the world of sports. This included softball and a brief stint as a football player. Running up and down the court, however, is where she found her true voice – guarding her opponent and scoring baskets.
It would be basketball that would cultivate her as a leader and give her the kind of confidence that would help make her a high school All-American – earning her an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where she was awarded All-American honors as well. She played there for two years before transferring to the University of New Orleans, where she continued her collegiate basketball career for another two years.
“Basketball helped me understand the importance of dedication, identifying what you want, going for it, sticking to it and working hard,” she says. In addition to having the support of a hard-working, dedicated mother and loving family that always made me feel I was the best thing since sliced bread”.
Gibson had plans to dribble a basketball all the way oversees. This was pre-WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association), so going abroad was the only option for women in professional basketball. Before her pro hoop dreams were realized, she suffered a serious knee injury during her junior year, which resulted in surgery.
She redshirted that year, recovered, worked hard and snagged her starting position back. However, the first game of the season, she blew her knee out again.
Though Gibson was able to make a full recovery and continued playing, the second knee injury was more mentally daunting than the first. The physical ability of her basketball skills and the confidence instilled in her at a young age took a huge hit, impacting her dream of playing overseas. The mental lack of confidence and physical limitations proved to be one opponent she couldn’t easily beat.
It was then that Gibson, who was already a good student, refocused her perspective and re-prioritized her goals, taking academics even more seriously. It wasn’t just her own education she wanted to enhance; she started tutoring other student athletes as well.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Gibson went on to play semi-pro for Athletes in Action for two years, before trading her basketball uniform for a business suit. She settled into corporate life at Lockheed Martin (Oak Ridge National Nuclear and Research Laboratories).
While working there, Gibson discovered a male counterpart, who was doing the exact same job, was earning more money. She questioned this – eventually taking the issue to the ethics department. She was told the difference was due to her co-worker having a master’s degree, which she did not. So, in true Sheila Gibson fashion, she earned a master’s in Business Administration and Information Systems from Bristol University.
After graduating, she didn’t receive the raise she worked hard for and felt she rightfully deserved, but she continued her fight. As with many a basketball game, she found herself the victor. Lockheed Martin eventually honored the raise she earned and demanded – including back pay.
Shortly following this win, after five years at Lockheed Martin, Gibson dribbled her corporate basketball to Healthcare Corporation of America (HCA). HCA is the largest healthcare management company in the United States, with healthcare entities in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Though she knew nothing about the healthcare industry, the idea of traveling across the country utilizing her education to implement computer systems in hospitals was very appealing to her.
In September, Gibson celebrated her 20th year anniversary with HCA. In that time, she has had quite a climb up the corporate ladder. She progressed from being a System Consultant to a Manager over Clinical Consultants to a Director of PMO/Project Management to Client Liaison and finally to her current position as the Assistant Vice President of HCA Acquisitions/Divestitures.
In her more recent position, she has nine employees that report directly to her, in addition to, a large number of matrixed team members during each acquisition project. Sheila’s primary role is leadership , oversite and strategic planning for the technology scope. Additionally, she spends a great portion of her workday responding to emails providing guidance and support to corporate and divisional stakeholders throughout the organization.
“Eighty percent of my job is communication and building and maintaining good positive business relationships with my stakeholders,” she says. “I put a lot of time into communication.”
With HCA having 14 divisions across the United States, Gibson has to adapt to many different personalities and leadership styles within the company, which is why strong leadership and building positive relationships are top requirements for her role.
When asked if it was more challenging being an African-American woman in corporate America, specifically IT, Gibson says she’s sure there are all types of people, in addition to black women, who may feel prejudice at some point or another. Though she knows discrimination exists, she tries not to harp on it.
“Any situation is going to be what you make it, as long as you understand your environment and do whatever it takes to get where you want to be,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s up to you.”
“I really try to focus on making sure that if I don’t reach the point I’m striving to get to, I have no one to blame but myself.”
The confidence she developed through playing basketball has served her well in the corporate arena.
“I am confident. I have courage. I’m not afraid to question if something doesn’t seem fair, whether it’s personally toward me or a process” she says. “If it doesn’t seem right to me, I don’t hesitate to question it. I think that’s important in corporate America. That’s an important quality not just for an African-American female but a female period.”
In addition to her high-powered corporate job, Gibson is highly committed to serving others, and does so in a wide range of capacities.
She currently serves as the board chair of the Education Equal Opportunity Group (EEOG), a nonprofit organization that exposes high school students to community and business leaders to foster education and leadership.
She is a current board member and board chair elect for the YMCA Donelson/Hermitage location and Community Outreach Committee, serves on the National Sports Council/Women’s Sports Committee, and on the executive board for Music City Classic. Sheila also serves as a mentor for both the HCA IT Girls Mentoring Program and Music City Girls Lead! Program.
“I take a real high level of pride in mentoring young leaders,” shares Gibson, before adding she keeps a database of all past and present mentees, which includes high school students, HCA employees and others.
She instills in them the importance of confidence, courage, preparedness and being proactive.
“Mentoring is a big part of my leadership journey,” she says. “I definitely think it’s a win-win on both sides. I get out of it just as much as they get out of having me as their mentor.”
Gibson, who experienced a third knee injury playing in an NAACP basketball tournament, has accepted her days of running up and down the court are long behind her. However, she still remains active in the sport, through coaching in the Amateur Athletic Union (which she’s done in the past and hopes to continue in the future) and cheering in the stands for her 17-year-old son Corey, a rising senior at Donelson Christian Academy, who has followed in her footsteps.
Whether on the court or in the boardroom, Sheila Gibson has proven herself to be a strong competitor, fierce leader, humble servant and – ultimately – a winner. Swish!!!