President and CEO of Vermeer Manufacturing
Mary Andringa is the President and CEO of Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella, Iowa. Vermeer is a manufacturer of agricultural, construction, industrial and environmental equipment. The company employs over 2,500 people worldwide and its products are distributed in over 70 countries. In addition to her role at Vermeer, Mary serves as the chair of the National Association of Manufacturers and has held roles on various boards in the areas of business, government and education.
Mary’s career started in music education where she held positions in Grand Rapids, MI and Iowa City, IA. She also served as a Kindergarten teacher in Iowa City and as the Director of a preschool in the Omaha, NE area. Mary came to Vermeer in 1982 in market research and progressed through the company to reach the role she currently holds.
The Innovators DNA
When Cultures Collide
L on T: How do you reflect on your decisions, thinking, etc.?
Mary: This takes blocks of uninterrupted time. I like to use walking and exercise time as well as the time spent driving and traveling. I am currently planning another presentation and reflecting on the best way to connect with my audience.
L on T: How do you balance reaching short-term vs. long-term goals?
Mary: Our company maintains visuals on our goals to constantly track progress. We want to know at all times if we are meeting, exceeding or falling short of our targets. You need to keep the big goals out there but you need the metrics to see if you are making appropriate progress.
L on T: What can distract you from reaching your goals?
Mary: Down turns in the economy and unforeseen life changes can always pull you away from your goals but you can also do this to yourself. You can have too many goals too. You must constantly question if you have chosen to watch the right metrics. The wrong metrics can drive poor behaviors. You must be careful about what you incentivize to make sure it causes the actions that productively promote what you are seeking.
L on T: Are you a multi-tasker?
Mary: I think I am, but you have to be careful on what you multi-task. Some things can be distracting when multitasking. I like to be in the plants and with the people. I always take a notepad because ideas come to you while you are there talking with everyone. It is important to capture those so you can use them as you later in decision making.
L on T: How do you find collaborative partners who make your thinking better?
Mary: Collaborators can come from your organization but sometimes ideas come from your network. I find that being on boards is a great opportunity to learn from others. I have learned about company branding and a variety of other topics through being involved in these around the world.
L on T: Complete this sentence, "I used to think _______, but now I think ______."
Mary: I used to think that immediate decisions were the best but now I take more time on the process. I have learned that not everyone thinks at the same speed or with the same process. It is important to let the thinking happen at a pace that allows for that.
L on T: How is your thinking better today than it was five or ten years ago?
Mary: I have had the opportunity to learn about and appreciate cultural differences. While some cultures are great at performing standard work, others excel in creativity and innovation. Our company represents 18 languages in Pella alone with many others worldwide. Once you get out into the world and have experiences with this diversity, it helps you to see things differently.
L on T: How do you deal with the concept of obtaining buy-in to make change?
Mary: Don’t underestimate its importance. You need to give people legitimate opportunities to be involved in the process and make changes.
L on T: How do you decide when it is time to make a change?
Mary: We use an Impact-Difficulty Matrix as part of our decision making. If the change has low impact and high difficulty, don’t do it. If the impact is high and the difficulty is low you run with it. When the impact is high and the difficulty is also high, you still need to move but realize what it will take to make it happen. This thinking is not unique to manufacturing. We all have limited resources and need to make decisions about where we will use them.
Mary: I don't know that they do. I think differences in thinking is probably more related to personalities. Although I will say that I think women are generally more organized and better at multi-tasking. I think each person has his/her own strengths when it comes to thinking.