With a track record of 2,350 kaizen events since creating the Vermeer Lean Manufacturing Journey in 1997, Mary Vermeer Andringa has earned a seat at the lean guru table.
"My personal involvement in kaizens sends a clear message that everyone needs to be involved in our lean efforts. Upon acquiring a new company or setting up global dealerships, the first thing I introduce is our lean efforts and often attend kaizens," explains Andringa, CEO of Vermeer Corp., a global industrial and agricultural equipment company headquartered in Pella, Iowa, with manufacturing facilities around the world.
Lean has been successfully employed across the entire organization. The time it takes from raw steel to producing a finished Vermeer brush chipper was reduced from 52 days to two, while turnaround on delivering month-end financial statements has dropped from 10 days to three.
The business philosophy has translated into strong financial results, as revenues in 2012 were the highest in the companys history and about 40% higher than in 2000.
While lean improves manufacturing inside the four walls, Andringa is very active in making sure that U.S. companies see improvements when competing on a global playing field.
"It is imperative that U.S. companies have opportunities and access to global markets with less trade barriers," says Andringa, who cites the example of a global customer who told her that while he would like to purchase more of Vermeers equipment, the tariff in his country is too high.
To ensure that manufacturing has a bright future, Andringa recently served a two-year term as the first woman chair of the National Association of Manufacturers. She is one of 18 private-sector members of President Obamas Export Council, as well as one of 12 U.S. members of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum and a member of the Export Import Bank Advisory Committee.
Andringa's motto, as was her fathers before her, is "There has to be a better way."