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A Manufacturing Career Path Lined with Possibilities

From her dad's workshop, to marching band, to Georgia Tech, Kellie Ballew shares the critical turning points that led her to Shaw as an engineer, and the rewarding career in these decisions have afforded her.

Kellie Ballew

Sr. Product Sustainability Manager

Manufacturing has always been an important part my life. It was the source of my family’s livelihood and the promise of something more for my own future. My father was a maintenance technician and ran a side business building survey stakes and pallets. I was strongly influenced by him and recall anxiously awaiting his return from work so I could join him in the woodshop. During this time together, I learned not only how to saw and build, but also to understand how things work, to apply logic and skill to uncover new solutions, and the value of hard work. I was my father’s shadow and followed him everywhere; he nurtured my curiosity and introduced me to the world of manufacturing. He taught me to work to figure things out and not give up.

An early introduction to manufacturing helped me develop a strong work ethic and cultivated my natural abilities in math and science. In high school, I was a strong student, but also developed a passion for the arts. My interest in music often took precedent over time in the woodshop. As drumline captain and recognized #1 in the State for my abilities, band became a strong part of my identity and held a great importance in my life. Music fulfilled me in new ways and gave me a strong sense of accomplishment.

As high school graduation neared, I began thinking of my future and was faced with a difficult decision. My heart lived in my music, but I also understood the importance of being able to provide for a family. After a bit of soul searching, I knew that I could further develop my math and science aptitude into a fulfilling career in engineering and chose to continue my studies at Georgia Institute of Technology. To finance my education, I took advantage of a unique work-program for students offered by my father’s employer. I attended university for three quarters followed by a quarter working at a pet food manufacturing mill. The 12-hour days gave me an appreciation for the hourly work, but also inspired me to do more.

After graduation from Georgia Tech, I joined Shaw and was able to apply everything I had learned in the woodshop, in school, and in the summer work program to projects with large-scale global impact.  I wasn’t making the music I dreamed of in high school, but something that sounded even better: a quality product that is sustainable and makes a difference in people’s lives, while supporting my own livelihood. I found my role in manufacturing extends beyond the satisfaction that comes with actually making something - I am solving the needs of others, and in doing so, generating jobs to support the skilled workers on the plant floor. What I loves most is the intricacy that it takes to make extraordinary products and sharing my love of the industry with others.

One of the misconceptions about manufacturing in general is that it is manual and physical labor. When I tour people through our facilities, I have a huge sense of pride in showing them ‘my plant’ and all of the equipment technologies that they never imagined existed, from advanced material chemistry to robotics and extensive automation controls. They are often amazed at the scope and scale of massive equipment to manufacture something considered beautiful in style and design, as well as technically high-performing in their application.  I have to work hard to find simple analogies to try to explain the complexities that they see in our operations.

Among my contributions to the company was a hands-on effort to build Shaw’s carpet tile reclamation efforts from the ground up, including a lead role in the design, technology specification, purchase, installation, start-up and commissioning of the EcoWorx Tile recycling process that Shaw Industries operates today. As an expert in the EcoWorx® backing chemistry, I was uniquely suited to design the process capable of recovering the component raw materials that Shaw could re-use in future generations of products, supporting our commitment to Cradle to Cradle product design and disassembly.

The knowledge I gained by getting close to the operations and the people who interact with the product and equipment every day played a large role in my success at Shaw. I believe a measure of interest in engineering is a willingness to get dirty.  If you want to really figure something out, you need to be able to roll up your sleeves and get on the floor.  You have to be willing to do whatever it takes. This is a lesson that served me well when working with my father many years ago, and still applies today.