Themba Phiri was raised by a single mother in Sebokeng in The Vaal Triangle. It wasn’t an easy time for the ambitious kid who wanted to excel at school. Since there was often no electricity, he would spend nights studying by candlelight. “My grandmother complained that I was using up all her candles,” says Themba, “so I decided to study electrical engineering.”

Themba’s career in the manufacturing industry began in 2001 at the Ford plant in Silverton. He started off as an assembly plant line operator and never imagined that his career would follow such an exciting trajectory. “When I joined Ford, fresh from obtaining an N5 qualification in electrical engineering at the Johannesburg Technikon, I certainly did not imagine that 16 years later I would get the opportunity to travel to Argentina.”

As he worked his way up a ladder of various operational rungs at Silverton, Themba acquired a wide range of skills. His skills varied from fitting body panels on the assembly line to becoming a Torque Surveillance Inspector in the Quality Control team within two years. He didn’t stop there. He then moved on to become a Team Leader on the assembly line followed by a stint as a Process Technician on the Focus assembly line. But he wanted to climb higher. With the support of his managers and colleagues, Themba left Ford for two years to work at Schneider Electrical to complete his national diploma in electrical engineering. During this time, he also started studying for a B. Tech degree in Quality Control.


“I am eternally grateful to Ford for the opportunities I have been given”


“Obtaining the N6 formal qualification meant I was able to return to Ford, which made me very happy as I had missed the working environment at the Silverton plant.”

Working in the Squeaks and Rattles section in the assembly plant, first as a technician and later as an engineer paved the way for Themba’s promotion to Vehicle Evaluation Process Coach, a supervisory position. He graduated from his B. Tech course during this time, which prepared him for a move to the position of Quality Programme Manager.

“It was in this position that I was selected to represent the quality control team at the Global Quality Review in Pacheco, Argentina.  This was a great experience and enabled me to interact with like-minded Ford people from Thailand, the United States and Argentina. We shared ideas and I have maintained contact with the people I met which is proving a valuable source of information in the sphere of problem-solving,” explains Themba.

“I am eternally grateful to Ford for the opportunities I have been given, as well as the practical support that the company has provided in the form of bursaries for me to continue my formal education. The company also showed amazing empathy when I had a personal family crisis last year,” adds the 36-year-old husband of Jacqueline and father of a two-year-old son, Sonwabili.

Themba is hands on when it comes to involvement in company initiatives outside the office as well. He led the charge to launch a new company HIV policy and identified a key project during Ford’s annual Global Month of Caring. The latter project involved working at the Tshegofatsong School in Mamelodi for children with special educational needs for the past three years.

“I am very proud of the way in which I have been able to progress through the ranks at Ford and only hope that my achievements will serve to encourage other team members to follow my lead. I am certainly living my dream.”

Themba’s story is proof that perseverance and keeping the dream alive are key steps to success. In life, you will face set backs but it is important to keep learning and growing from your experiences.