Obituary: Allen Jacobson brought financial discipline to 3M

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2012 - 9:00 PM

He boosted 3M with his focus on productivity, cost control and quality.

Allen Jacobson, the former 3M CEO.

Allen Jacobson, 86, a former 3M CEO known for efficiency and meeting financial goals, died Nov. 1. In recent years, he'd lived in Naples, Fla.

Jacobson, known within 3M as "Jake," was a consummate corporate insider who joined 3M after college in 1947 and worked there his whole career -- a path to top management that was common at that time. During his five years as CEO, between 1986 and his retirement in 1991 at age 65, 3M's sales rose 60 percent, its earnings nearly doubled and its stock price jumped 90 percent.

Jacobson's cordial but no-nonsense management style brought financial discipline to a company that was sometimes better at inventing things than at making profits from them.

In 1988, he appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine for an article called "What America Makes Best," which focused on American-manufactured products. In 1992, he was named American Manager of the Year by the National Management Association.

He also served as a director of several other companies, including Abbott Laboratories, Prudential Insurance, Mobil Corp. and Sara Lee Corp.

Jacobson's successor as CEO, Livio "Desi" D. DeSimone, remembers Jacobson as "a very analytical guy who always wanted to know the real facts. He was always interested in productivity."

After receiving a chemical engineering degree from Iowa State University, Jacobson worked as a product engineer in 3M's tape laboratory for three years, then moved through a succession of management jobs in 3M's industrial and consumer operations, whose products included Scotch brand tape, Post-It note pads, abrasives and chemicals.

His hallmark as a manager was determination.

"He was a very disciplined guy; I think he grew up that way," DeSimone said. "If he had a checklist, he stuck to it. That was a priority. And he delivered what was promised."

Jacobson was known within 3M for his three-point, five-year plan, called J-35. It was intended to reduce manufacturing costs such as labor content (the time spent making something), manufacturing cycle time and the cost of quality (which meant reducing waste).

Inge Thulin, 3M's current CEO, said that Jacobson's "leadership of 3M was marked by strong innovation, international expansion and productivity improvement. He was an important leader at a pivotal time in 3M's history and in many ways built the foundation for the modern 3M."

Added DeSimone, "He was the right guy for that time at 3M."

But, despite his determination, Jacobson was an even-handed CEO - accessible, fair and open-minded, DeSimone said.

"He wasn't the kind of guy you'd joke around with, but I always had a good time with him."

Services were held Tuesday in St. Paul. Jacobson was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara. He is survived by his three children, Allen Jr., Holly and Paul, and four grandchildren.

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

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