The People of GR Chair: Rhoda Nielsen

by Andrea Reynolds

Rhoda Nielsen normally starts her day around two in the morning. As a zone leader in the upholstery section of the Grand Rapids Chair Company plant floor, she not only arrives an hour before the rest of her team, but faces a 45-minute drive to work everyday. While many people may have switched jobs to work closer to home and avoid such early hours, Rhoda just shakes her head at the idea. “No, I like what I’m doing. I’m happy with the company.”

Rhoda, who now manages 20 people in her area, came to Grand Rapids Chair nine and half years ago after realizing she wasn’t built to be on the road with her husband, a truck driver. “I was on the road with him for six months, and it was fun, but I couldn’t just sit. I needed to be doing something; I had to go back to work.”

When two options opened up, Rhoda chose to join the growing Grand Rapids Chair Company. She had experience in wood finishing and upholstery, and really enjoyed furniture building. She also recognized the opportunity for growth.

Now Rhoda is in charge of making sure the chairs that come out of her upholstery section, one of  the last stops on the manufacturing line, are of the highest standards. Since quickly moving up the ranks due to her strong work ethic, positive attitude, and high expectations, Rhoda has built a reputation as being tough but friendly. “I’m hard on people, but I just expect a lot.” But it’s not that she rules with an iron fist. You’ll notice more than any other team, her team is always smiling.

Rhoda might be the last person to talk about her lengthy accomplishments. In fact, we had to point out that she is most awarded employee at the company. 

Rhoda’s tough expectations but friendly demeanor bring people to her area even though they know she demands the best. “Everything goes through different departments before it gets to me, and that can be a challenge, but it just takes communication,” she says.

“I love my job, and even on rough days, I make it my own happy place.”

To her, her role is more than just a job, and this makes her an irreplaceable part of the Grand Rapids Chair Company team. With plans to retire in nine years, we joke that Rhoda  has only nine years to train someone else to do what she does.

A little more about Rhoda...

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What's the most important part of your role?

RN: Being personal with the staff, understanding what’s going on in their life outside of work and looking at the big picture. Accommodating different issues makes everyone happy, and it makes me happy.

What qualities do your team members need to have?

RN: They need to have a good work ethic, a desire to learn and be dedicated workers. I don’t want people who just want a job. They need to like what they do and want to do it the best they can.

What's your favorite product?

RN: The Andy lounge. It's a good, solid chair. It's easy to assembly, comfortable, cozy, and relaxing. 

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What's your favorite part of your day?

RN: I just like being around people all day. And solving problems. I don’t like rework, and if something isn’t working right, I’ll come up front and point it out.

How would you describe the culture of Grand Rapids Chair?

RN: It’s more like a family. They really care about the employees and promote a teamwork mentality. They care about what we do. 


Rhoda’s story is the first in a series that will put these individuals in the spotlight and share their stories. Stay tuned to learn about the fabulous folks that keep Grand Rapids Chair Company running smoothly.