People - April 2005

Weaving tapestry is women's work
By Vicki Grooms

Sharon Decker is a preacher’s daughter, former beauty queen, mother, executive and now an innkeeper and business owner. When people ask her if women can have it all, she says sure. “Just not at the same time.” She left a job in August as president of Tanner Holdings, the planning arm of Tanner Cos., a Rutherfordton clothing manufacturer. Her reason, she says, was to follow her heart to a new business.

Decker, 48, a former Duke Power executive who chaired the Charlotte Chamber in 1998, spent nearly $1 million to buy and renovate the town hall and firehouse, built in 1925, and two other buildings in downtown Rutherfordton, about 70 miles west of Charlotte. She used them to start The Tapestry Group LLC, which offers retreats, seminars, consulting and other services for women struggling with competing pressures. She, her husband, Bob, and four children have lived in Rutherfordton since 1999, when she became president of Tanner’s Doncaster division. The centerpiece of Tapestry is The Firehouse Inn, where the four beds are made with Italian linens and some rooms have gas fireplaces.

Decker says Tapestry is more akin to a religious calling. “There’s a work life. There’s a personal life. There may not be a spiritual life. I look at life as a tapestry. It has threads. Some are broken. Sometimes colors work or don’t work. But in the end, it’s a beautiful piece of work.”

One of three daughters of a Baptist minister, she was Miss Gastonia and graduated with a bachelor’s in economics in 1979 from UNC Greensboro. She worked for Duke Power from 1980 to 1997, starting as a customer-service representative and becoming the company’s first woman vice president. In 1997, she started the Lynnwood Foundation, which oversaw preservation of the Duke mansion, Charlotte home of Duke Power founder James B. Duke. She was president and CEO until 1999.

But she hasn’t left the corporate life altogether. She is on the boards of Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, Matthews-based Family Dollar Stores and Herschend Family Entertainment Group, a Branson, Mo.-based theme-park operator. She also is a student in a two-year program for lay pastors at the Presbytery of Western North Carolina’s School for the Laity.

The Tapestry Group has five employees, including her and her husband. The Deckers also have formed North Washington Street Properties, a real-estate company, and she remains a consultant to Tanner Holdings. She also is paid to speak at businesses and community forums and is writing a religious-themed book.

Still, she says she won’t be trying to juggle too many roles at once. “Now I think of it as synchronization — not balance.”