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Sherrie Ford '64

Athens Dr. Sherrie Ford, work-culture visionary and manufacturing firm owner, dies at 64 Dr. Sherrie Ford, prominent consultant in the field of work-culture change and lean manufacturing and head of one of the ten largest woman-owned businesses in the United States, changed the lives of workers in plants throughout the country and practiced what she preached on the floor of her own manufacturing facility in Athens, Georgia.

She died on Monday, April 18, at the age of 64 after a months-long battle with stomach cancer.

Ford dedicated her life to changing the legacy systems that plagued small manufacturing firms across the country. She once wrote in an Industry Week article of a curious disengagement between founders / leaders and the workforce that rallied behind their start-up visions of glory. Ford pioneered a unique process of work-culture transformation that engaged not just management, but the entire hourly workforce in every facility in which she worked, encouraging them to embrace world-class manufacturing techniques and lean production principles. Dr. Ford's background was in literary scholarship, but fate took her in a much different direction.

She completed a master's degree in creative writing at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1973. She taught French and English at Emanuel County Junior College in Swainsboro (now East Georgia College) before receiving her Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia in 1982, having produced a dissertation on French literary criticism on the work of Jacques Derrida. She then joined the faculty of Athens Technical College, where her interest in manufacturing grew. Inspired by Robert Hall's Attaining Manufacturing Excellence, Dr. Ford, as Vice President of Business and Industry Services, founded the Center for Continuous Improvement in 1991; its mission was to help companies in North Georgia develop organizational leadership and vision and adopt lean manufacturing principles. It was perhaps her background in literature and Derrida that allowed her to read the culture of the manufacturing plant so well, and to view that culture first from the eyes of the men and women on the shop floor.

Born in 1946 in Meridian, Mississippi to Otto Theodore Ford and his wife Charlie Mae Womble Ford, she was the eldest of three sisters. Her father's military career took the family to exotic locales from Libya to Germany. She spoke fluent French and developed a love of travel. France and its culture would remain a life-long love. She travelled there every other year and once wrote in her travel journals that France has always provided this other identity, almost a past-life. Her refinement and gentility were often out of the place in the overtly-masculine atmosphere of the plants in which she worked (she once had to walk a half mile to even find a ladies washroom in one facility), but when she spoke to hourly employees and their bosses she won minds and turned around their deeply-instilled workplace behaviors. In 1996 she left Athens Tech to start the consulting company Change Partners, and in 2003 she and business partner Steve Hollis purchased a transformer manufacturing company that they re-named Power Partners.

As Chairman and Executive Vice President of Culture, Ford was at the helm of one of the ten largest woman-owned businesses in the United States as certified by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Her writings on workplace culture and lean manufacturing principles have been published widely, and she has spoken and consulted in South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada. She served as a Best Plants judge for Industry Week and as the president of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Southeastern Region Board. She was to have chaired the 2011 AME annual conference in Dallas, Texas this fall. She will be missed walking the plant floor of Power Partners, where her deep engagement as a leader and personal knowledge of her employees was a fundamental part of the culture-making she practiced in her own facility. Ford believed in change from within, and from the ground up. As she wrote in one Industry Week's Best Plants issue, Work cultures can't be outsourced.

Sherrie maintained a unique and personal sense of spirituality that incorporated both her love for the traditions of the Episcopalian Church, with which she grew up, and a reverence for the sacred paths of all those from whom she drew inspiration and cherished.

In addition to her mother, Ford leaves behind three beloved children, Brandon Ford (Sandy), Juniper Ford Burrows (Bill), and Theodore Hilton; four grandchildren, Justin and Bailey Ford and Otto and Emory Burrows; two sisters, Melanie Schwallenberg (Charlie) and Pam Millar (Don) and nephews Dustin Sanders and Brian Sanders (Lealane, wife; Olivia, grand-niece; Owen, grand-nephew). Additional extended family, colleagues, and personal friends are also mourning her passing, including her life-long friendship circle the Grad Girls. Sherrie will always be remembered for her passion for her work, her love of family, friends, literature, and Paris, and for the long walks with which she started every day.

In lieu of flowers, the family would like to request a donation to the Jeannette Rankin Foundation www.rankinfoundation.org (to the Sherrie Ford Endowed Scholarship), Relay For Life -Team Power Partners www.relayforlife.org, search for Power Partners Team or send check to American Cancer Society , Team PPI In memory of Sherrie Ford, 1684 Barnett Shoals Road, Athens, GA 30605, or the It Gets Better Project www.itgetsbetter.org.

Services will be held at Emanuel Episcopal Church in Athens in the coming days. A celebration / memorial will be held afterwards at the Morton Theater in downtown Athens. Dates and times to be announced. Bernstein Funeral Home, Athens, has charge of arrangements. Please sign our Obituary Guest Book at www.onlineathens.com Athens Banner-Herald, Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Published in Athens Banner-Herald on April 20, 2011