At 3M, a passage of power

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2012 - 7:24 PM

At the shareholder meeting in St. Paul, new CEO Inge Thulin took over the chairman's seat from George Buckley.

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3M Shareholders Meeting at the RiverCentre, St. Paul, MN., on 5/8/12. (left to right) New 3M CEO Inge Thulin and retiring CEO George Buckley took questions from shareholders during the annual shareholders meeting in St. Paul.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Outgoing Chairman George Buckley conducted his last 3M shareholder meeting Tuesday before passing the chairmanship to longtime 3Mer Inge Thulin.

Thulin, a 33-year employee who ran 3M's international operations for nearly eight years, took over as CEO in February but did not become 3M chairman until after Tuesday's annual meeting. Thulin's appointment returns a 3M insider to the helm of the Maplewood-based manufacturer for the first time since December 2000. Buckley and his predecessor, W. James McNerney Jr., were the only outsiders to run 3M in its 110-year history.

The Sweden-born Thulin spent much of the annual meeting on the stage standing next to Buckley, who fielded pointed questions from shareholders about 3M's lobbying efforts and political contributions.

Earlier, representatives from Carleton College, Common Cause and the Boston-based 3M shareholder Trillium Asset Management demonstrated outside the RiverCentre in St. Paul. The groups, which are part of a national movement seeking to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, presented shareholder proposals to ban all political contributions and require extra reporting on all lobbying activity. 3M shareholders rejected the proposals.

In his farewell remarks, Buckley said: "I've been so blessed in having the privilege and honor of leading this great company. And that privilege and honor is now being enjoyed by someone else."

Buckley then introduced shareholders to their new CEO and chairman. Afterward, Thulin told reporters that it was proper that Buckley ran the annual meeting because he was formally the chairman until the meeting ended. There was no formal passing of the torch.

"We don't think about those ceremonies,'' Thulin told a reporter. "We just go right down to do business immediately."

Over Buckley's 6 1/2-year tenure as CEO, which included the Great Recession, total return to shareholders rose 34.4 percent, beating the Standard & Poor's 500, which returned 24.6 percent.

Now it's Thulin's turn. In a speech to retirees and in his remarks to the media, Thulin outlined his plans to grow 3M into a $50 billion company. Global revenue hit $29.6 billion last year.

Thulin's new vision: "3M technology advancing every company. 3M products enhancing every home. 3M products improving every life."

The new vision "will challenge all of us,'' Thulin said. "At the same time we wanted it to be simple, straightforward, timely and yet timeless.''

Thulin showed a video about his vision that showcased 3M products used to make solar panels, windmills, gas pipe coatings, aerospace supplies, laptop and TV screen films, asthma inhalers, and bandages as well as products used to make cars, security identification systems, personal safety and consumer household goods.

"This is showing that we are moving toward becoming more global, more diverse and more contemporary,'' Thulin told the hundreds of retirees who came out for the event. Thulin said 3M will focus on "emerging megatrends" such as health care, the booming oil and gas industries and products that foster sustainable, clean technology, clean water and green products.

Thulin said he expects "significant hiring" and training over the next few years to replace departing retirees. He insisted that the United States will remain critical to 3M, even though only 33,000 of 3M's 84,000 employees last year were based in this country.

"The U.S. is one-third of our business, meaning $10 billion," Thulin said. "Our brand equity in this country is incredibly strong. We have research and development here that is unmatched by anyone and we have manufacturing capabilities here. So this is our home turf. And we will win here as well."

Thulin expects to travel 70 percent of the time to stay close to U.S. and international customers and employees. He added that 3M is not overly concerned about Europe, which is suffering an economic downturn. 3M has more than $5 billion in revenue there and expects to take market share away from competitors.

"It looks like there is no growth at all. But the reality is that there is growth in many markets,'' he said. "If you go into countries like Italy, like Spain, like France, there is growth in certain segments. And that is what we are going after. And at the same time [we'll be] holding our costs and managing our costs very, very effectively."

During the meeting, one retiree knocked Buckley for his multimillion-dollar executive compensation at the same time 3M food service and janitorial workers were being laid off and their jobs outsourced. Buckley said 3M was committed to keeping jobs related to 3M's core business.

Several other retirees bemoaned the absence of the company's traditional product trade show and retiree luncheon that had became synonymous with 3M's annual meeting. Retired Post-it Note inventor Art Fry said hundreds more retirees used to come out to see new products that had been invented since they had left the company.

Buckley noted that those extras cost about $1 million and were cut to save money during the hard times of the recession. Thulin said that he was pleased that the annual meeting was being conducted as "a business meeting" without the frills of the past.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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