When Mary Andringa arrived at NAM headquarters on Wednesday, she expected a tour of the renovated office. Instead, the former NAM Board chair was surprised by an applauding crowd who gathered for the ribbon-cutting for one of the NAM’s meeting rooms, now named the Mary Andringa Room in commemoration of her decades-long service to manufacturers in the U.S. The NAM’s conference rooms are named for many luminaries of manufacturing, including Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Jonas Salk and Marie Curie.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed, humbled and honored,” Andringa said.
A longtime supporter: Now chair emeritus of Vermeer Corporation—a family-owned, midsized manufacturer of industrial and agricultural machines in Pella, Iowa—Andringa served as NAM Board chair from 2011 to 2013 and has been an active participant on the NAM Board since the early 2000s.
- Andringa found her experience as NAM Board chair deeply meaningful, remarking on the close relationship she developed with NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, who was also newly appointed in 2011.
- “It was a really great experience because I had a few years under my belt as CEO [of Vermeer],” Andringa said, “and I could share best practices with Jay. It was great to see how he took initiative and dug into some areas that needed more cooperation, like the NAM’s partnerships with state associations.”
Visiting the Hill: Andringa said she “enjoyed being a voice for manufacturing” in meetings on the Hill and with several administrations.
- Whether advocating against compliance regulations that created needless hardship for manufacturers, or for removing trade barriers impeding U.S. exports, Andringa stressed that she always made her case to policymakers on both sides of the aisle.
- “The NAM tries to be the voice of reason. … It has done a good job connecting with both parties and whoever is in the White House,” she said.
- She always felt that policymakers listened to her and took her opinions seriously, recognizing that her privately held, medium-sized company was “what America is all about.”
Workforce, workforce, workforce: The importance of training more skilled workers has remained constant throughout Andringa’s career as a manufacturer and advocate for manufacturing.
- One of the highlights of her time at the NAM, she said, was seeing the rise of the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s 501(c)3 workforce development and education affiliate, on whose board she now serves.
- Andringa is impressed particularly with the MI’s stellar outreach, which includes webinars that help manufacturers recruit workers from populations they might not be familiar with, such as people with criminal records.
Her story: Andringa understands the importance of workforce education and training firsthand, having worked as a teacher before joining her family’s company back in 1982.
- After starting out at Vermeer in human resources, then moving to the advertising department, she became deeply involved in manufacturing operations.
- Looking back at her years as COO, then co-CEO with her brother and finally solo CEO, she is proudest of two accomplishments: championing lean manufacturing, which the company has now practiced for 25 years, and working with her family members to create a solid governance structure to avoid the difficult leadership transitions family firms often face.
- And to take things full circle, Andringa also exercised her commitment to education at Vermeer, ensuring that its team members have many opportunities for training and advancement.
Lasting ties: Andringa has many fond memories of her work with the NAM, including the time in 2008 where she and other NAM representatives unexpectedly found themselves talking with President George W. Bush.
- She recalls that Timmons encouraged her to talk to the press afterward, which taught her an important lesson: that you must always come prepared with a short pitch that will get your story across quickly, because storytelling is all-important.
The last word: When asked which accomplishment at the NAM she is most proud of, Andringa responds “encouraging and supporting the NAM team … which is very intentional and very dedicated to manufacturers.”