She was steeped in Reformed teaching from an early age, lived in the Dutch town of Pella, Iowa, and faced a college choice that was either Calvin or Dordt College. Yet Mary Andringa credits her worldview—a perspective that has guided her life and work to this day—to a Calvin Religion 101 class with the late professor Gordon Spykman.
“The idea that the whole world belongs to God, He is sovereign over all and calls us to serve Him whatever and wherever the gifts He has given us take us—it is a bedrock conviction that serves as a constant guide,” she said.
Andringa’s original intent was to study nursing at Calvin, but she soon changed to elementary education with a music emphasis.
She remembers the excellent professors at Calvin, names such as Stanley Wiersma and Howard Slenk coming quickly to mind. “Calvin has outstanding scholars who really want to teach undergrads,” she said.
Andringa met her future husband, Dale, in Radio Choir, and they’ve been married for 40 years now. She followed Dale to medical school at the University of Iowa and landed a position teaching music and then kindergarten in the public school system of Iowa City. Son Jason was born there.
Moving to Omaha, Neb., for Dale’s residency, she directed a church preschool program part-time as daughter Mindi joined the family.
At this time, Andringa was asked if she had an interest in joining the family business, then known as Vermeer Manufacturing, in her hometown of Pella.
The company was founded in 1948 by Andringa’s father, Gary Vermeer, an entrepreneur and inventor who began Vermeer as a one-person endeavor. Vermeer Corp. is now an international company that manufactures agricultural, construction, environmental and industrial equipment and employs more than 2,000 people and generates over $500 million in business each year.
Andringa started with the company in 1982 as a market researcher and became more and more involved. She was named chief operating officer at Vermeer in 1989 and later co-CEO with her brother, Robert Vermeer, in 2003. Six years later, that title was changed once more, to president and chief executive officer.
“One has to be intentional about working in a family business,” said Andringa. “Family businesses have their own brand of opportunity and stress. We work through the tough issues and we have trusted outside-the-family advisers. There is a strategy and structure for family members entering the company and for transitions.”
It turns out the former elementary music teacher has a gift for business and executive leadership. She is the first woman to be elected as chair of the board for the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation’s largest industrial trade association. In 2010, President Obama named Andringa to a White House export advisory council, one of only 18 business executives across the nation so appointed.
“I am a strong believer in manufacturing in our country,” said Andringa. “Our national association advises on policy and can be influencers for future jobs in manufacturing.”
Of the Washington appointment, she said, “About 30 percent of our business is in exports. We’d sure like to see government policies that go in the right direction.”
Her visits to the nation’s capital have been rewarding and frustrating. She has been able to meet and network with other national business executives, members of Congress and White House administrators.
“I appreciate the challenging task of national politics much more than before. There are a lot of dedicated people in Washington, but it also seems easy to get caught up in the bureaucracy,” she said.
“We do have a form of government in this country that can work; there are checks and balances,” she noted. “It is our responsibility as citizens to contribute and make our voices heard. Free trade agreements, for example, are important for exporting. It has made a difference that people are speaking up.”
Andringa has been asked numerous times in the last few years to run for public office, but she politely and consistently declines. She sees her primary task as a business owner to help provide a positive platform of transition to the next generation.
She sees many intersections between faith and business, and she credits her family’s unswerving adherence to biblically based values as a primary reason Vermeer Corp. draws business partners.
“Clients come to us because they see us as a company of integrity,” she said. “We want to be known that way and we try to interact with everyone that way.”
“I’ve observed particularly how Mary integrates her Christian faith with her values in life as CEO of a family owned company,” wrote her pastor, Tony Vis, of Meredith Drive Reformed Church in Des Moines. “Mary would want it clear that the placement of Christian values in the Vermeer business is a family decision, a tradition handed down from her parents and fully embraced by her and her siblings. She leads a company that cares for its people, those it serves and those who serve it, as much as it values profit.”
Andringa mentions the Vermeer “Four Ps,” the core values of the company: principles, people, products and profit. Each value is described with words such as stewardship, uniquely gifted, honesty, integrity, sustainable, quality and reinvestment.
“We stand behind our values,” she said. “We’re not perfect, but we are dependable and stand by our word. Other business partners tell us we’re unique. Even internationally, with different religions and customs, our straightforward, values-oriented approach resonates.”
Running a business these days is no small matter. Challenges abound. But Andringa describes herself as a “glass half-full person,” optimistic that the problems of the day, the year and the future can be overcome.
“My dad used to approach difficulties by saying, ‘That’s not really a problem; we’ll get that worked out,’” she said. “That’s become my view for whatever comes up in business, or at church or school. That’s not to minimize the challenge, but only to say, ‘We have a lot of resourceful people here. There’s work to do, but we can rally the troops and get it accomplished.’”
Mary and Dale Andringa’s son, Jason, is a 1999 Calvin graduate, with an aeronautics degree from MIT and an MBA degree from the University of Southern California. He is Vermeer’s vice president of global distribution and global accounts. Daughter Mindi graduated from Calvin in 2000, received her MBA at Davenport University and serves as Vermeer’s marketing fleet manager. The Andringas have four grandchildren.
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