Inspiring leaders creating jobs and innovations are not getting the shout out they deserve. Specifically women leaders in manufacturing. In this column, I will be shining a light and sharing another tremendous hero that we can learn so much from because every day she improves lives. She is a job creator. Jobs that are rich in dignity and purpose - as well as pay and great benefits. These women we focus on should be models for our young people . They are inspirational and real - in contrast to what Hollywood and many in academia promote as productive people to emulate.
Last week we discussed Hannah Kain and her contribution to growing Manufacturing jobs. (Check out the article). Today we will focus in on another luminary based in the rural town of Pella, Iowa. Here is the second in an occasional series - meet Mary Andringa.
Q: What is your title?
Q: What do you do every day?
A: As Chair of the Board and former CEO of the company, I work with management in an oversight perspective, with our board members (both shareholder and independent directors) and our shareholder group to align together on the future strategy of the company.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A:2,300 in the U.S. and approximately 2700 worldwide.
Q: What was your First Job in Manufacturing?
A:I started with the company in 1982, working in market research.
Q: What did you learn from this first job?
A: I learned the importance of hearing from our customers on their needs and expectations.
Q: Did you have a mentor and what did they impart on you?
A: I did not really have a formal mentor, but I had several informal mentors. One of those was Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller. From Max, I learned a lot about the importance of appreciating each person in the company and their individual skills. People make all the difference in an organization. Max, like my father Gary Vermeer, asked the same question of me---"Are you having fun?" This is a great question because you need to be passionate about your work in order to be truly focused and successful for the future of the enterprise.
Q: What character traits for a CEO are critical to getting ahead in today's economy?
A: I think it is crucial to understand the importance of being able to articulate a vision for the organization, know how to manage change (which is inevitable) and know how to build a high performance team.
Q: Why do you like Manufacturing?
A: To design equipment that solves real problems and then be able to take raw steel and follow processes to deliver on that design to bring reliable and innovative solutions to the market is a wonderful profession. Manufacturing adds real value to our country and the world.
Q: How is your company unique?
A: As a privately held company, we have brought new innovative niche products to the marketplace which an make a real impact for our customers. We strive for a culture that truly cares about the growth and development of our team members, but also the well-being of our dealers and end customers.
Q: Do you export? What are your biggest challenges?
A: About 20% of our volume is exported. The biggest challenge right now is the strength of the dollar. But in the long term, trade barriers are also a continual challenge.
Q: Proudest Career Accomplishment?
A: I was the champion for Lean methodology, Continuous Improvement, in our company. This was and continues to be a team effort, but my passion for it and my involvement in the processes was necessary to make it part of our culture.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in your career?
A: How did you over come this set back? One of the biggest challenges was how to manage and lead the company through difficult economic downturns. I tried very hard to think about the message that I and other leaders brought to our team, our dealers and customers. Learning how to balance the reality of the business with hope for the future was important in leading through these economic downturns.
Q: You run a big company - what is your management style?
A: My style has been participatory. I believe in engaging leaders and managers at all levels in working together to react to challenges and to devise appropriate strategy.
Q: What benefits do you offer that make it easier to retain talent?
A: Beside the typical healthcare, tuition assistance etc., we added a medical clinic and pharmacy for our team members, chaplains to walk alongside our team members and recently an early learning center for children and grandchildren of our team members.
Q: What two policy changes should Washington refine so you can hire more people soon?
A: Simplifying regulations for us as manufacturers but also for our customers would help grow the business. Opening up more trade opportunities would also spur our business.
Q: What are your biggest obstacles?
A: Regulations, trade barriers, skilled workforce.
Q: Best Work Force practices all business leaders should consider?
A: For us, we invest in the talent pipeline through multiple initiatives starting with great STEM education for the children at our early learning center to inviting over 600 students to annual MFG Day as well as other events, supporting teacher internships, shadowing programs, internships with community colleges and 4-year colleges, as well as establishing an office in one of Iowa's public university research parks.