Maintenance Manager | Memphis, Tenn.
Sherman Ford has been in the energy business for ages, but now he’s working in a plant that’s utterly new: The $900 million Allen Combined Cycle Natural Gas Plant in Memphis. It’s so new, in fact, that it kind of blows him away.
“This is the most advanced plant we have,” he raves. “It’s a new type of technology, and we are the fifth or sixth one in the United States. We are on the cutting edge.”
And what does that mean? That the plant is still breaking in—literally. “Some things need repairing while other things require system modifications to perform as intended,” Ford explains. “That’s to be expected. We fix some things ourselves, and for others we bring in the experts. We have a lot of warranties, and it’s my department’s responsibility to manage them.”
G.E., for instance, is on site today. “Our whole plant is in outage right now as a result of modifications we are making to our turbines,” Sherman explains. “That’s just part and parcel of new technology.”
In sum, he says: “Ours is a new plant, so we’re working through issues as we go. It’s a lot to learn, and it’s very exciting.”
From Coal to Gas
In a previous life, Ford was the maintenance manager at the now-shuttered Allen Fossil Plant, which sits so nearby, but is a world away. “When you compare a coal and a gas plant, it is night and day,” he says. “There, I had 51 people working with me; now I have five people working with me. There, you had electricians, instrument mechanics, machinists, pipefitters, boilermakers, and other specialists to handle all the work. Here, we have all those skills rolled up into just a few operation technicians and machinists.”
Fords’s job is simply this: “I oversee the day-to-day management of maintenance for the plant. That sounds simple. It’s not.”
At Allen Combine Cycle Plant, there are a grand total of 28 employees, and they must always be working together like a finely tuned machine. Certainly, Ford makes sure his employees are.
“We start the day at 6:00, and we go over activities for the day, we create a path of things we are going to be working on, setting up our preventive maintenance plans, and discussing things that might have changed from the previous day,” he says.
Then, by 6:30, it’s on to the bigger meeting with the bigger plant. “That’s when we sit in the operations meeting to review the plan of the day for the whole plant.”
From there it’s on to take care of scheduled maintenance, and whatever else may crop up—including those emergent items that arise simply because the plant is new.
Part of Ford’s challenge is to put the right people in the right place at the right time. “I enjoy managing,” he says. “I like putting the pieces together and getting the right people—learning their strengths and weaknesses—to create smart teams.”
“Identifying skill sets is imperative, and I enjoy that challenge,” Ford explains. “Here, people can learn different skills rather than one specialty. They can really develop themselves.”
Ford’s preceding job was at a gas plant—TVA’s Lagoon Creek Combined Cycle in Brownsville, Tenn. But that was a very different experience. “There, I had guys who knew all the ins and outs of the plant due to the age of the plant. Here, we’re learning the plant in real time. Fortunately, we have very good people, and everyone is open and eager to learn. We all learn from each other.”
Ford appreciates his management role for another reason, too. “I think management gives me the ability to guide the direction of where we are and where TVA is trying to go,” he says. “I have a hand in that direction. They trust me with the responsibility of maintaining TVA’s latest asset. That’s a big deal for me.”
A Reliable Man
Ask Ford what makes him most proud to work at Allen Combined Cycle Plant, and he’ll tell you it boils down to one word: reliability. “It’s my job to make sure that we’re dependable, and that we are here when the people of the Valley need us,” he says. “Especially the people served by Memphis Light, Gas & Water.”
He’s a bit of shy guy, though, when it comes to tooting his own horn. “I like being able to provide the service, and not necessarily the public always knowing; I’m not one for fanfare,” he says. “But when I speak to the youth group at church and I tell them I’m part of the company that makes the lights come on, they have an ‘aha!’ moment. People don’t give a lot of thought to where their electricity comes from.”
Ford spends a lot of time at his church, where he is the Minister of Music for the acapella singing choir. And he’s a real family man. Married to wife Stacie for 10 years, they have four kids — Sasha, 25; Brandon, 23; Shawnessi, 19; and Brea, 18 — along with twin 4-year old grandsons, Aubrey and Avery. Together they, watch movies and log as much hang time as possible. Ford also enjoys flying drones.
He loves living in the Memphis area, but wishes the city knew this: “Just who we are as a company, how hard the people within TVA work and the pride we take in being able to provide reliable electricity to this area.”
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