This is My Story.
This is My Story.
Watch Rhonda’s Video
‘Even when he was sick, he never missed work.’
For as far back as Rhonda Beasley could remember, her impression of manufacturing was that it was a “dirty job.” Her father used to come home from working in the factory with sludge on his car, dirt under his fingernails, and smelling of sweat. She knew his job was a hard day’s work, but it was the work ethic of a man she describes as a “little gruff,” that put food on their table and helped her believe from a young age that if you work hard, you can do anything.
Fast-forward to the mid-1980s and Beasley was married with two young sons. With prior experience in the insurance industry, she applied for an insurance job at Roper in LaFayette, a small town in Northwest Georgia. A maker of consumer ovens, Roper employs 1,600 and is the largest employer in Walker County. During the interview, she expressed her desire to find a job that fit her lifestyle — one in which she and her husband would not have to put their kids in daycare. It was that one statement that changed her life.
‘This is what hell must look like’
The hiring manager told her about an opportunity to work third shift — as a welder. Beasley had never been inside a plant and during the first part of her tour was shown the furnace. She stared into the depths of the red and orange flames where the ovens were being fused together and thought, ‘this is what hell must look like.’ The rest of the tour left her fascinated — the machinery, the parts, and the movement of the assembly lines — it all just seemed to fit.
Excited about the opportunity to work at night and stay home with her kids during the day, Beasley came home to tell her family the news.
‘I’ve never backed down from a challenge.’
The excitement was short-lived. After accepting the job, a family member who previously worked in manufacturing, told Beasley that she was “too soft” and wouldn’t be able to do the job. That was all the motivation she needed. As the fourth of five children, she always worked to keep up with what her brothers and the other boys in her family could do. This job would be no exception.
The first month was tough. Her body ached every day while she adjusted to manual work and being on her feet. The work was demanding and home life wasn’t any easier. She worked all night and took care of her kids during the day. When her youngest was napping, she would sleep. There were times she thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ And then quickly said, ‘yes, I can.’
It was this attitude that would pave the way for her future and her two young sons.
‘It takes an army’
Three years after starting at Roper, Beasley was working first shift welding and was a single mother of two elementary school children. Although her parents were not educated, they had always drilled the value of continuous learning into her head. Roper offered a tuition reimbursement program Beasley wanted to use in order to go back to school. Knowing it would take an army to succeed, she held a meeting with her sons to ask them to support her decision to go to college. Together they worked on schedules for school, chores, and extracurricular activities. She quit her second job bagging groceries, enlisted her parents’ help with babysitting and taxiing her kids to practice, and enrolled at Truett-McConnell’s off campus program in LaFayette, GA.
It was hard work and a constant juggle, but it was during this time that Beasley applied for and received a job at Roper as a technical writer for the oven ranges install instruction manuals. It was her first salaried job. She was elated. Her family and many of her friends were supportive, but some friends began treating her differently, concerned that her new position and success would go to her head. But what everyone quickly learned is that the people of Roper were also Rhonda’s family and family was what mattered most to her.
‘Choose jobs that make you happy. Continue to lift people up.’
Over the years, she finished her bachelor’s degree in business management and completed her master’s degree. This education — combined with the work ethic she had learned so many years ago — allowed her to pursue positions she never would have dreamed of when she first started at Roper. As opportunities arose and the company began to embrace team work, continuous improvement and ergonomics, Beasley was able to use her past experience and her education.
Since starting with the company 29 years ago, Beasley has moved into roles within the organization that use her talents in leading and motivating people. She has held positions as a:
- Consumer Focus Specialist – understanding the needs and motivations of the customer
- Team Development Specialist – empowering the workforce to make change
- HR Shop Specialist and Training Center Manager – hiring over 500 people and running the GED program center
- Lean Leader – tapped to start the lean manufacturing program within the plant. It was during this time, 12 years ago, that Beasley helped found the Roper Kaizen Promotion Office, which used lean techniques to continuously improve processes and organizations. Having reached capacity at the plant, Rhonda knew it was imperative to involve the people within the organization. She combined a team of salary and hourly employees, asked them to look at processes differently, identify waste, and to take initiative to try new things and make changes. Changes began to happen on one part of the assembly line. Building on successes, the team rolled this way of thinking out to the rest of assembly, then fabrication, and finally the support area. The result was better, safer ways to do business that made the company more productive, freeing up floor space that allowed Roper to take on new business and find new job opportunities and promotions for employees. The Kaizen Promotions Office transformed the factory and was used as a model plant for other GE plants.
- Human Resources Manager – where she currently combines her experience with lean concepts to her experience with working with many teams of people within the plant. She helps lead individuals within the organization to invest in the processes, the products, the company, and most importantly, themselves.
Over the past three years, she also had her hand in developing the Roper Corp. Wellness Center, a full-service, onsite medical practice that is free for all employees and their insured dependents. The practice includes medical services and a health center which recently helped one of her friends at the office get back in shape and lose 65 pounds.
Nowadays, Rhonda takes manufacturing home with her.
‘Manufacturing is now dinner conversation’
Remarried in 1995 to a man who works in the industry and at one point owned his own manufacturing company, manufacturing is a part of Beasley’s life at home as well. Dinners are now spent discussing workforce, the future of manufacturing, and the pressures to continue to keep manufacturing relevant and thriving within Georgia.
Her kids are grown now, married, and in careers of their own, having taken to heart their mom’s lessons on hard work, perseverance, and attitude that were instilled upon them through the examples she provided in her own life. She now uses her positive energy, outlook, and personal experiences to deliver messages about the future of manufacturing to kids, teachers, and parents.
‘It’s important that kids know there are great careers in manufacturing.’
Beasley spends time talking to kids and teens about the misconceptions and truths of manufacturing. She focuses on improved safety and ergonomics within plants and benefits available to employees. Rhonda discusses jobs and careers within industry, including messages about STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and math) in the local schools, career choices for kids not interested in four-year colleges, and how many people handle a completed item before it enters their home.
In an industry that not only gave her a start, but also a career, Beasley continues to pay it forward. Written on the wall of a classroom years ago was a quote that forever is engrained in her mind and now is framed in her office, “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” A motto she lives by, Beasley constantly inspires others around her by showing them that by making a choice you are able to affect the outcome of your family, your career, and your life.
About Roper Corporation
Roper Corporation traces its history as a manufacturer of cooking products back to 1874. Acquired as a wholly owned subsidiary by GE in 1988, the plant produces consumer ovens for the GE line. GE has invested in the cooking products business, its products and its people. GE introduced high involvement work teams, extensive EHS and ergonomics programs, comprehensive Quality Management Systems and Lean Manufacturing. Roper employs 1,600 people and is the largest employer in Walker County. Additionally, many of the Roper Corporation employees have family members working at the plant, including some that have four generations of family onsite. It offers excellent benefits to employees including tuition reimbursement, an onsite health and wellness center, 401K, and desirable work schedules (primarily first shift Monday – Friday) that allow for work/life balance.