This is the second part of a two-part interview with Mary Andringa. You can read the first part here.

Mary Andringa

Early on in her time as an executive with Vermeer, Andringa found herself at a crossroads. She commuted an hour each way to the company’s headquarters in Pella. This meant dropping her kids off with a neighbor who would take them to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon.

Because her own mother had always been home when she and her siblings returned from school, Andringa struggled with being unable to be there in the same way for her own children. Weighing whether to stay in her role with the company or to quit and be a stay-at-home mom, one morning she asked God for guidance, praying, “I’ll do what you want me to do, but please make it very clear.”

That morning, just before she arrived at work, the company suffered its first on-the-job casualty – a freak accident that claimed the life of a welder. Because this tragedy had immediately followed her prayer for clear guidance, Andringa’s first thought was that God didn’t want her to be involved in business.

Along with her brother, Stan Vermeer, who was also a Vermeer executive at the time, Andringa went to visit the family of the deceased employee to extend condolences and, with the family’s permission, to offer a prayer. Because Stan had lost his wife to cancer a year earlier, he knew that while those grieving the loss of loved ones often have a lot of visitors initially, they are often left to face the future largely alone in the difficult months that ensue.

So they arranged for former coworkers of the employee to spend time with the family on the company dime over the course of several months—going out for pizza, a movie, or bowling with the kids. They also set up a trust fund to enable the employee’s children to go to college or to buy a house.

Through this experience, it became clear to Andringa that this family did not have a church community; the company itself, however, had provided a vital support system in their time of need.

She realized that as a company driven by Christian principles, Vermeer could uniquely impact the lives of its employees in far deeper ways than merely providing them with a paycheck. This convinced Andringa that she could truly honor God and serve others through her involvement with the company.

“Our business will never be their local church,” she says, “but we can provide some community, and that may lead them to a local church.”

To that end, the company arranged for a Christian psychologist to be available to employees by telephone, providing personal and family counseling as needed. Vermeer eventually hired a chaplain, and then another. As Andringa puts it, the goal wasn’t to convert anyone, “but to go alongside them in pain, in joy, in trouble, and just to be there.”

Today, on a weekly basis these chaplains have an average of 150 interactions with employees. They are present on the manufacturing floor, at retirement celebrations, at meetings. They make hospital visits, provide counseling, and on some occasions have even officiated employees’ weddings.

“They’re out there, in the flesh,” Andringa says. “People feel free to set up appointments, just saying, ‘I’d like to talk to you about something.’”

The company’s core values are reinforced not just from the top down, however, but by the employees themselves. Through the Vermeer Cares program, employees have donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of paid days off every year to coworkers in the case of house fires or illnesses in the family requiring additional time away from work to attend to those concerns. Employees have also volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse and other groups to provide relief assistance to those suffering after disasters.

Amidst the daily responsibilities of running a large company according to principles rooted in her Christian faith, Andringa realizes she must continue to cultivate and sustain her own theological worldview, especially as it pertains to business. She is committed to reading books from a variety of perspectives, and regularly seeks to learn all she can from other business leaders.

“I’ve had great conversations with executives at John Deere, ServiceMaster, and Herman Miller,” she says. “It’s always inspiring to meet other Christians and to see how they live out their faith in their work.”

One Response to A Theology of Managing and Manufacturing: Vermeer President and CEO, Mary Andringa (Part 2)

  1. […] The story was published late last week by Fieldnotes in two parts, available here and here. […]