DeSimone, who spent 43 years at the company, was chairman and CEO for much of the 1990s.

By Dee DePass dee.depass@startribune.com

Livio "Desi" DeSimone, who led 3M through a period of rapid change as chairman and CEO, died of cancer Tuesday at the age of 80.

DeSimone spent 43 years at 3M, serving as CEO and chairman of one of Minnesota's iconic companies from 1991 to 2001 and as a director from 1986 to 2001.

Current 3M CEO Inge Thulin praised DeSimone for guiding 3M through decades of growth and changing times.

"Desi was a bold leader who courageously guided 3M through the turbulent economic decade of the 1990s," Thulin said in a statement.

Thulin said DeSimone's accomplishments included strengthening 3M's portfolio through actions that included the spinoff of the imaging systems business that later became Imation, as well as making long-term investments in core technology platforms.

"Desi was a champion of the environment and demonstrated an unwavering commitment to sustainable business practices for 3M and the community," Thulin said.

A native of Montreal with a degree in chemical engineering from McGill University, DeSimone joined 3M in 1957, the same year he married Lise, his wife of 60 years. The couple had four children.

DeSimone began as a process engineer at 3M and held multiple technical positions in Canada, the United States, Australia and Brazil.

He went on to hold executive positions for most of 3M's business sectors and served as area vice president in Latin America and managing director of 3M Brazil.

Under his watch, 3M's revenue grew 24 percent - from $13 billion in 1991 to $16.1 billion in 2001. DeSimone left 3M in 2001, retiring in Naples, Fla.

Former employees credited DeSimone for taking uncharacteristic steps for a chemicals company.

Bernard Gonzalez, a retired 3M product development engineer, praised DeSimone for making the decision to work with environmentalists, to exit the breast implant business and to switch to water-based adhesives in an effort to eliminate ingredients with volatile organic compounds.

DeSimone co-authored a book about the environment, and formed industrial forums with other companies to help solve problems like global warming and carbon emissions.

"Under his watch, he got people to think about the total environmental impact [of manufacturing and transportation]. I give him credit for that," Gonzalez said.

He also appreciated that "Desi was not a bully."

DeSimone frequently visited the scientists and engineers in 3M's labs. He chatted with employees in technical forums and debated vigorously with employees about research, educational partnerships and activities going on in other countries.

"He would be in the fray and arguing back and forth and he would go to the labs and say, 'How's it going? What's going on here?' " Gonzalez recalled. "He made his face known around the company. He was one of the last [executives] who did that well."

Over the decades, DeSimone served on the boards of major companies including Cargill, American Express Funds, Target Corp. and General Mills.

He also served as a trustee of the University of Minnesota's Foundation and is credited with partnering with the university on numerous research projects.

Art Fry, the 3M scientist who developed Post-it notes in 1974, said DeSimone would periodically invite him to breakfast in 3M's executive dinning room and ask questions about what Fry would do if he were CEO.

Fry recalled that DeSimone "was an easygoing guy. He got along well with people. From my standpoint, the [best thing] was that he listened and he talked — not just to the people directly under him, but people at all different levels of the company."

A family spokesperson said there has been a tremendous outpouring of support from Minnesotans all across the state and that it's appreciated. A private memorial service will be held for immediate family at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggested charitable donations in his name. DeSimone's favorite charities were Habitat For Humanity, Junior Achievement and The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Includes reporting by staff writer Karen Zamora.