Mary Andringa stepping down from Iowa Board of Regents (updated)

Saying she had “underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role,” Mary Andringa announced today she will step down from the Iowa Board of Regents, just one year into her six-year term. I enclose the official statement below, along with more background on Andringa, who has had a long and distinguished career in business and industry advocacy work. As a regent, she is best known for participating in a secret Ames meeting with Bruce Harreld and three other board members, then sending Harreld an effusive e-mail encouraging him to apply for the University of Iowa’s presidency.

Governor Terry Branstad will select Andringa’s successor on the nine-member Board of Regents, almost certainly after the state legislature has adjourned for this year. Consequently, the Iowa Senate will consider that nominee during the 2017 session.

Since 2011, state senators have confirmed the overwhelming majority of Branstad appointees unanimously or nearly so. However, Senate Democrats rejected two of Branstad’s picks for the Board of Regents in 2013. Craig Lang faced criticism for allegedly interfering with state university policies during his first term as a regent, while Robert Cramer drew fire for his record of social conservative activism, including as a member of the Johnston school board.

Branstad thinks highly of Andringa, naming her to a newly-created state economic development board a few years before appointing her to the even more prestigious board that oversees Iowa’s state universities. In fact, Branstad and his onetime chief of staff Doug Gross were said to have recruited Andringa to run for governor in 2009, a few months before GOP heavyweights persuaded Branstad to come out of political retirement. A poll commissioned by an organization linked to Gross had tested voters’ interest in female business leaders as potential gubernatorial candidates. Some news coverage in the spring of 2009 named Andringa among the possible GOP challengers to Governor Chet Culver.

UPDATE: Casting Andringa’s resignation in a new light, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 28 that the outgoing regent “has long been a director for a national furniture company but failed to publicly disclose that relationship before its local distributor signed a major no-bid contract with the University of Iowa last year.” Excerpts from that story and from Jeff Charis-Carlson’s report on that no-bid contract are after the jump.

Foley reported on April 28,

Her resignation came one day after a Des Moines Register story raised questions about the university’s agreement to buy Herman Miller furniture from its local certified dealer, Pigott, last year. […]

Andringa, board chairwoman of the Vermeer Corp. in Pella, has been a Herman Miller director since 1999. Federal filings show she earned $146,000 last year from the Michigan-based company and is a major shareholder, owning about $1.4 million in stock.

Andringa joined the Board of Regents on May 1, 2015, and did not list her director’s position with Herman Miller on her conflict of interest disclosure form filed that month. […]

On June 30 of last year, a Pigott executive signed a contract extension to exclusively supply the university with chairs, desks and dozens of other Herman Miller products through March 2018 and to help outfit the children’s hospital. Days later, on July 6, Andringa amended her conflict of interest form to note her work for Herman Miller, saying that the company “may from time to time have operational staff submit bids to sell office furniture and other goods” to state universities. Two days later, university purchasing director Debby Zumbach signed off on the Pigott extension. […]

Andringa has served as the chairwoman of the regents’ committee that oversees the university hospital. She didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday [April 28].

That Des Moines Register story by Jeff Charis-Carlson, also published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on April 27, did not mention Andringa’s connection to Herman Miller or Pigott. The focus was on the no-bid contract for furnishing the children’s hospital. Excerpts:

In an email to the Press-Citizen last month, [Jeff] Lewis said his medical furniture company, Neocase — which has since been purchased by the Canadian company, Groupe LaCasse — was invited by officials with UI Health Care in May of 2014 to compete for the award of casework and furnishings for the new UI Children’s Hospital. He said the company’s involvement reached the point that it was one of two manufacturers asked to create mock-ups of equipment for the patient rooms. […]

“Given our portion of the patients’ rooms, we were estimating upwards of $2 million,” Lewis said. “For the entire furniture contract, it probably would be north of $5 million.”

The UI Operations Manual requires that all goods or services worth more than $25,000 be sent out for competitive bidding or competitive negotiations.

UI officials confirmed last month that projects referenced in the new contract had not gone out for bid, but they said “all UI purchasing policies were followed.”

A request for proposals had gone out in 2010 for the original master agreement for furniture acquisition on behalf of UI and UNI, UI officials report. Multiple vendors were awarded an agreement in 2011, and in 2015, UI Purchasing contacted each of those vendors to negotiate extending the agreements.

“Due to the additional purchasing volume from two major UIHC projects, the pricing offered for the extension period decreased, resulting in significant savings for the university,” UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett said via email.

Iowa Board of Regents press release, April 27:

Mary Andringa Announces Resignation from Board of Regents

Regent Mary Andringa has announced that she is resigning from the Board of Regents, State of Iowa effective April 30, 2016. Andringa’s term began May 1, 2015.

“I underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role given my pre-existing commitments and responsibilities. I have come to realize that I do not have the capacity necessary to fulfill the needs of this position at a level that is acceptable to me,” said Andringa, who serves as Chair of the Board for Vermeer Corporation and also holds multiple other board positions and national governmental relations roles. “When I accepted the appointment, I was nearing the end of my tenure as CEO of Vermeer and was confident I would have the time to serve the state through the Board of Regents. Unfortunately that is not the case.

“I am proud of my time serving on the Board and of what we accomplished. My passion for education and preparing students for future workforce needs of our great state is as strong as ever,” Andringa said. “I look forward to continuing to find ways to contribute to that progress.”

“We appreciate Mary’s dedication and service to the Board of Regents,” said Board President Bruce Rastetter. “She has served this Board with distinction, including as Chair of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Committee. We understand and respect her decision, and wish her the best as she continues to serve our state well in so many ways.”

A member of the Vermeer family, Andringa began working for that major equipment manufacturer in 1982, rising to the positions of president and CEO in 2009. Since late 2015, she has left the CEO position and served only as chair of the company’s board. A news release from the Vermeer company in August 2014 provided more background on her involvements:

Mary Andringa, current President & CEO, will assume the role of CEO & Chair of the Board Nov. 1, 2014. Mary will transition exclusively to Chair of the Board Nov. 1, 2015. […]

Mary Vermeer Andringa is currently President and Chief Executive Officer of Vermeer Corporation. Ms. Andringa is continuing the family legacy of her father and company founder Gary Vermeer.

She recently concluded her two-year term as chair of the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation’s largest manufacturing association, leading efforts to promote a stronger manufacturing industry. Ms. Andringa is one of 18 private sector members of President Obama’s Export Council, where she represents manufacturing on important trade matters. Ms. Andringa is also a member of the Export Import Bank Advisory Committee. In 2013, Ms. Andringa was inducted into IndustryWeek’s Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

In addition, Ms. Andringa is a Member of the Vermeer Board of Directors; Director of the Herman Miller Co. in Zeeland, Michigan and Milliken & Company in Spartanburg, South Carolina; Past Chair of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry; Trustee for the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California; and Trustee Emeritus at Central College.

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