By Bob Vermeer, Chair Emeritus, Vermeer Corporation
Leadership isn’t at the “top” of a career path. That may sound opposite a culture that drives us to work longer, set the bar higher, achieve something bigger. But in my experience, leadership isn’t something we give to others at a certain career stage. It’s something others give to us, sometimes over the course of a lifetime, sometimes in a moment.
My father, Gary Vermeer, was a leader. Nearly 70 years ago, he started a manufacturing company that is Vermeer Corporation today. As a child, I followed him around the business and the farm where we lived. His work ethic was, and still is, an inspiration to me. He worked hard, and he expected others to do the same. He challenged his team to try new solutions, and said that if 50 percent of their ideas didn’t fail, they weren’t trying enough new things. Then he left them to invent, innovate, improve. And they did.
Empowering our workforce continued to be what I enjoyed most, as I worked through the ranks and eventually became CEO at Vermeer. People have always been our greatest asset, but when they are given opportunity to lead – if only on a single project, for one meeting or simply in conversation – that’s when I’ve discovered the talent that surrounds me.
Manufacturing is predicted to have nearly three and a half million jobs that will likely need to be filled over the next decade, with two million of those jobs going unfilled unless we do something about it. It’s a critical time in manufacturing to focus on workforce development and the talent that surrounds us, and that can happen in a number of ways. At Vermeer, we verbalize that through a 4P Philosophy that puts People first, and has Principles at the core. We offer personal development opportunities such as tuition assistance and internal courses through Vermeer University (VU). Team members may choose from 250 active classroom offerings and 290 online courses, videos and resources through VU. We’ve engaged the future workforce by bringing thousands of students to Vermeer in recent years to learn about manufacturing careers, by visiting classrooms, by engaging student and teacher interns, by offering job-shadowing and mentoring, and by partnering with community colleges and universities. On a state level, we’re aligned with the Future Ready Iowa Initiative, calling for 70 percent of Iowans to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. We are giving our current and potential workforce new opportunities to meet the growing manufacturing workforce need – to invent, innovate and improve. And they are finding solutions. Whether they are learning something new through training, or discussing manufacturing opportunities around the family dinner table, they are our industry leaders, today and tomorrow.
Leaders are influencers. We all have opportunity to be a positive influence on those around us and share our inspiring manufacturing message. My dad knew, I know, we all know that no matter what the need, we are only as effective as the people who work alongside us. Whether we’re developing an entire manufacturing workforce or a single customer solution, my experience is that leadership is granted when we stay humble and empower others to uncover the best solutions.
Honoring Industry Leaders
Bob Vermeer is a 2016 inductee to the AEM Hall of Fame. His father, Gary Vermeer, was inducted in 1996. If you know an inspiring leader, please consider honoring them with a nomination to the AEM Hall of Fame.
The nomination period for the 2017 AEM Hall of Fame closes on June 7, 2017. Nominations received after June 7, 2017 will be considered for the 2018 AEM Hall of Fame.
Inductees into the AEM Hall of Fame should exemplify five guiding principles:
- Industry Contributions
- Corporate Citizenship/Social Responsibility
For more information about AEM Hall of Fame or the nomination process, email or call AEM’s Jordanne Waldschmidt at 414-298-4152.
Watch Bob Vermeer reflect on his career at the 2016 AEM Annual Conference and Hall of Fame Celebration: