Celebrating 30 Exceptional Families
Vermeer, founded in 1948 and headquartered in Pella, Iowa, manufactures large industrial and agricultural equipment. The company employs more than 3,000 team members worldwide who design, build and support the iconic yellow iron. Second-generation family member Mary Andringa is chair of the board of directors; her son Jason Andringa is president and CEO. There are about 70 family shareholders.
Because of a falling-out in 1974 between founder Gary Vermeer and his brother Harry Vermeer, who had worked with him for a quarter-century, the two family branches had minimal contact for 35 years, with the Gary Vermeer family owning a majority of Vermeer Corporation and the Harry Vermeer family owning a minority of the company and stake in a local bank.
Family members from Gary’s side were groomed to work in the company and participate in ownership decisions. Those from Harry’s side were groomed to be silent owners and offered few opportunities to participate other than one seat on the board of directors. This continued owing to a conflict-avoidance mindset between both branches.
In 2009, Gary’s son Bob Vermeer, now chair emeritus, and his daughter Heidi Vermeer-Quist, then ownership council chair, reached out to the Harry Vermeer branch. Out of these conversations grew initiatives to increase contact and information flow between the family members.
In honor of its 30th anniversary, Family Business honored 30 outstanding family businesses:
With the help of a consultant, the family participated in exercises that helped them honor their family history while considering how to learn from the past and move forward. The family’s shared values and goals were key: their Dutch heritage, their Christian faith and their foundational “4P” philosophy (Principles, People, Product, Profit) shared by the family and corporation.
The family worked together to update their mission and values statement and held a ceremony to celebrate its ratification. In 2010, the Vermeer family convened its first “family camp,” an annual gathering that combines informational business updates with family governance work and fun. That same year, the family launched its quarterly newsletter and a shareholder handbook.
An ownership council, with members from both branches, was established in 2011, after two years of work by a family task force. The ownership council addresses key family and shareholder issues, such as next-generation development, estate planning and family governance. A family office serves all family members.
Mindi Vanden Bosch, daughter of Mary Andringa, is chair of the ownership council, and Allison Van Wyngarden, daughter of Bob Vermeer, is the ownership council education committee chair. Both are third-generation family members.
The Vermeer Corporation board of directors has a policy requiring at least one more independent director than shareholder directors. There is a detailed, documented shareholder director qualification and development process and a deliberate connection between the board and the ownership council through the board of directors’ governance and nominating committee.
Other structures and policies include a family constitution and charter, a family employment policy and a family website.
During the economic downturn in 2009, the board and shareholders agreed that if the company could break even, there would be no layoffs. Because Vermeer had adopted lean manufacturing, the company had not overproduced and was able to sell its inventory in the field. Vermeer focused on R&D during this time and was able to avoid a reduction in its workforce, which benefited the company greatly and put it at a competitive advantage when the economy reversed.
In the summer of 2018, a tornado struck the Vermeer Corporation campus and destroyed two large manufacturing plants. In addition to the team members, more than 400 dealers and customers were onsite visiting the Vermeer campus for a customer conference and celebration of the company’s 70th anniversary. Thanks to the company’s well-developed safety practices, no one was seriously hurt. All team members were back at work a month after the disaster, an achievement Vermeer attributes to the company’s values-based teamwork and dedication, as well as God’s grace.