10/04/2014 09:30 am ET Updated Dec 04, 2014

Women in Business: Becky Taylor, Sylvan Learning Franchisee

Becky Taylor has worked in the field of education more than 35 years. She began her career, as a Special Education teacher, serving students identified with mental impairments, learning disabilities and behavior disabilities. In 1988, she became a Sylvan Learning Center franchisee and over the past 25 years has successfully grown her organization of centers in eastern NC. She currently owns and operates 5 centers and serves on various councils and committees with the Sylvan Corporate Office in Baltimore, MD. She became the Sylvan National Spokesperson in 2008 when she was chosen to tape a National TV commercial for the franchise organization. She most recently completed a 4-year term serving on the Sylvan's Franchise Organization Association National Board of Directors. She was appointed, in 2013, by the Governor to serve on the NC State Board of Education. She will be inducted into the Educator's Hall of Fame at East Carolina University in October 2014.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was second to the oldest in a family of six children. My parents were divorced when I was in 2nd grade so my mom had her hands full trying to raise us on her own with little financial support. I am confident that I acquired many critical values that helped me become the leader I am today as I learned first-hand the importance of hard work, commitment, sacrifice, and persistence. I found out how to be resourceful and receptive to new ideas. I very thankful for the opportunities I received growing up and know that I have and can continue to help others experience success in their lives.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a franchise owner?
I was very fortunate to start working at the age of 14 in a Developmental Day Care Center. This experience is what led me into the field of Special Education. I quickly knew I would become an educator and loved the idea of working with students that learned differently. At the same time, I started working, after school, in my father's business. That is where I began learning the principles of accounting, setting business goals and managing people. After graduating from college, I taught in the public schools for a decade and acquired a wealth of understanding about the public schools and teaching students of all ages and abilities. When I left the public schools, I had the opportunity to work at the University level, where my experience writing grants, directing special projects, teaching and supervising teachers gave me new knowledge that has been invaluable in my role as a franchise owner today.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a franchise owner?
I have had many highlights and challenges during the past 27 years as a franchise owner. I think the greatest challenges include learning how to manage staff and how to delegate. I am not sure when I finally became more comfortable with these skills, but know that I was still struggling with both managing staff and delegating during the first 5 to 10 years as a franchisee. Today, I feel very comfortable managing staff but do not think it is a skill that is ever truly mastered. I continue to focus on how to be a better manager every single day. I know the people a franchisee has on staff can mean the difference in running a successful operation. I am fortunate to have highlights almost every day at work because of the families I serve. Managing a Sylvan offers more rewards than I could have ever imagined. Some of my greatest highlights are phone calls from parents sharing stories and thanking us for changing their lives. The success stories are awesome and keep me motivated to continue running the best centers possible.

How is your Sylvan franchise making a difference in the education industry?
I feel than my Sylvan franchise had made a difference by helping others see the value of creating a positive learning environment, building motivation and confidence in learners and how there truly is not a one size fits all when it comes to learning. I see the education industry replicating many of these principles more today and pleased to think Sylvan contributed to this mindset.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to own a franchise?
I would encourage other women to become a franchisee. I would want to make sure they understood the time and commitment it takes to own a franchise. I would tell them to be prepared to work hard and to reach out to others for support. Many women try to do everything on their own but as a business owner, it is very important to build relationships with other successful owner.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is probably the most difficult role for a female franchise owner. When I first became a franchisee, my son was 5 years old and getting ready to start kindergarten. As a franchisee, I had to work long hours and learning to balance all responsibilities was not easy. As with many business owners, I have the personality that wants everything done perfectly (including being the best mom and wife), so I had to learn quickly how to organize my life to be the best I could at both work and home. I had to learn to leave work at work and enjoy time with my family. It took great planning to coordinate and appreciate all the roles required. Today, my son is 32 yrs. old and I just became a grand mom of twins. So once again, I am trying to maintain work/life balance because of new demands. It absolutely can be done. I will say worrying and complaining about it is not the answer. It is a matter of taking control of your life and knowing when to say no.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Probably the biggest issue in the workplace for women is lack of respect. I personally have not experienced this problem like many women have, but I think women allow this to become an issue by not asserting themselves in a genuine manner. We are all people, no matter if we are male or female, so conduct yourself as an equal and be yourself.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been very fortunate to have mentors throughout my life. I have always looked for strong attributes in others and tried to learn from them. I listen and watch people. When I find someone that I admire and know I can learn from, I slowly continue to build that relationship. There are many individuals that love mentoring others. I would not be where I am today without the many mentors that have helped me.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
On a local level, I admire female leaders such as our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. June Atkinson. Dr. Atkinson has a wonderful history in NC of taking on challenges and handling them in such a professional manner and getting positive results. Her ability to manage people and situations is very admirable to me. I also admire many other female leaders in the Sylvan franchise community. I have had the pleasure of being friends with fellow franchisees - such as Susan Valverde (franchisee in Texas) and have developed a trusting relationship with her as a result of our mutual mentoring.

What do you want your franchise to accomplish in the next year?
I want to grow my franchise during the next year in revenue by at least 20%. I want to open at least one or two satellite locations within my territories in order to offer the convenience to families and to serve students closer to their homes. I want to continue to empower my staff to take on more of the management of the centers and to give them ownership opportunities.