For Mary Andringa, continuous improvement is not just a practice for Vermeer Corp.’s workers and a goal for the global manufacturing company — it’s a personal commitment and philosophy that she has championed for more than 35 years. 

Andringa, daughter of Vermeer founder Gary Vermeer and a second-generation company owner, has guided the Pella-based global corporation into its third and fourth generations while also breaking new ground for women in the manufacturing industry. She remains the only woman to have led the National Association of Manufacturers, one of the nation’s largest industry groups, as chairman. 

Andringa, who has been Vermeer Corp. chairman since November 2015, was previously CEO  and chairman for one year and president and CEO for five years. Earlier roles have included co-CEO and chief operating officer. A significant focus throughout her tenure with the company has been continuous improvement and education. In 2019 she was inducted into the Equipment Manufacturers Hall of Fame; six years earlier she received the same honor from IndustryWeek.  

“Her commitment and relentless leadership positioned Vermeer Corporation as a strong voice in the industry – for lean manufacturing, for the education of our future workforce, for the legislation of policies having a positive impact on manufacturing, for family-owned and -operated companies and for taking care of the people of Vermeer,” the Equipment Manufacturers award stated. 

 Developing and maintaining a skilled workforce are often manufacturers’ top concerns, Andringa found from her experience in leading the National Association of Manufacturers. 

“Every year [NAM] would survey members to find out what their top issues were, and usually a skilled workforce was in the top three, and often No. 1,” she said. “We have worked hard on that at Vermeer and I've been a big proponent of that, too. For instance, our welders who come in often need more math education. … And for virtually every role at Vermeer, whether you're in an office job [or on] the production line, technology and math are important.”  

Career opportunities for women in manufacturing have grown significantly over the past 35 years, she said. 

“We have many fantastic women team members in all aspects of the company. Certainly in production, the percentage of women continues to grow. In addition to HR, which is predominantly women, we also have a lot of women in our finance area, and in IT, marketing and engineering. … I've been delighted in just the last 10 years to see more women become part of our engineering teams, and the thing that I know for sure for the future is that there will continue to be great opportunities for women in all parts of manufacturing and distribution.” 

Speaking of the future, this summer, two fourth-generation family members who are high school students are working at Vermeer in internships. 

On the other end of the employment spectrum, Andringa and her husband have taught classes for the past several years to Vermeer employees and their spouses on preparing for the “third phase” of life after retirement. 

“Thinking about how you can use your experiences and your passions to give back to others, how to really be influential for others in their lives, is something that we are both really passionate about,” she said. “And it’s been fun for us to do something like that together.” 

 

THREE AREAS OF INFLUENCE

1. She was the first woman to chair the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the National Association of Manufacturers; she currently chairs the Iowa Business Council. 

2. She is a sought-after manufacturing leader and has served on the B20, the private sector’s channel into the G20 group of 20 largest industrial nations to provide leadership on small business and entrepreneurship. 

3. She co-chaired the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council with then-Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and has been an advocate for STEM education for her company and the manufacturing industry as a whole.