3M names Inge Thulin as new CEOby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — 3M today named Inge Thulin as its new CEO and president; he will succeed current CEO George Buckley on Feb. 24.
Thulin will be 3M's first insider in more than 20 years to take the company's helm.
Buckley will reach 3M's mandatory retirement age of 65 on Feb. 23.
Thulin joined 3M in 1979 in his native Sweden and has focused on international operations for much of his career. 3M gets about two-thirds of its revenue from products sold outside the U.S. and the company credits Thulin with building its international sales to nearly $20 billion annually. Last May, Thulin was appointed as 3M's chief operating officer. That was seen as a move to signal Thulin would replace Buckley.
Thulin was not available for an interview, but he told Bloomberg News he will maintain 3M's commitment to research and innovation and overseas growth.
"The expansion internationally, we'll also continue," Thulin said. "If you think about where we try to take the company from a growth perspective, those strategies are not changing because they're working for us."
Continuity is the dominant theme in 3M's change at the top, and represents a departure from the past two CEO hires, both of which came from outside 3M. Historically, 3M had promoted from within, but the last time the company gave the top job to an insider was in 1991.
Thulin's long history with 3M pleases Wall Street.
"His experience within the company could definitely be an advantage," said Jeff Windau, an analyst with Edward Jones. "Obviously, he knows a lot of the people throughout the company. He's spent time in multiple areas of the company. So, I think that could help him potentially move a little a faster."
The advantage, Windau said, is that the culture of 3M will remain unchanged.
"That's something that really is critical to 3M and how they've really been successful in the past. And so, I think that's very promising for their future direction as well. Don't mess with success," Windau said. "They've definitely had a good track record."
3M insiders think it's a good idea to promote the top guy from within.
Arthur Fry, a retired 3M scientist and the inventor of Post-It notes, said he's glad to see a 3M veteran return to the company's helm. He says Thulin won't have to spend a lot of time learning about how 3M works.
"There's an old saying around 3M: It takes about five years to become a 3Mer, to be able to understand the culture at 3M that is good at both building businesses and running businesses," Fry said.
Fry says Buckley did a great job as CEO and expects Thulin to also be a great successor.
"I wish we had a system where we didn't have to let go good leaders at 65 because I'll certainly miss George Buckley and what he did for us," Fry said. But I think Inge will continue... different sort of leadership characteristics but he's a man who can get things done."
Thulin's appointment ends speculation that the 3M board would waive its retirement rule and allow Buckley to keep his job. Buckley became 3M's CEO in 2005. And in December, Buckley publicly said he did not wish to retire.
Buckley, an Englishman who trained as an engineer, came to 3M in 2005 from Brunswick, the boat and bowling equipment maker. At the time, some observers questioned the choice of an outsider from a much smaller company for 3M CEO. But during Buckley's tenure as CEO, 3M's total sales grew by 40 percent to nearly $30 billion last year.
Morningstar analyst Adam Fleck said Thulin definitely has the confidence of investors and analysts.
"We think the company will be in good hands. Buckley has set up an enduring franchise here of innovation; really re-invigorated what 3M has been known for in the past," Fleck said. "We think at least in the near-term here, all is well and we don't see a whole lot of material change right now."
Buckley will remain as chairman of 3M's board until the company's annual shareholder meeting in May, when Thulin is expected to be elected to that post. 3M shares rose eight cents today to close at $87.97.
Fry has known Thulin for decades and said he is not hesitant to listen to others.
"The thing about Inge is he knows what he doesn't know," Fry said. "So, he's gathering people about him to deal with that part of the company."
In an interview with the Reuters news service, Thulin said he would focus the 110-year-old company on accelerating growth in certain emerging markets and strengthening its "innovation machine."
Thulin told Reuters he is certain the company can reach $50 billion in annual sales by 2016 — more than a 60 percent revenue increase. His biggest concern, he said, is the global economy.
Thulin told the Associated Press that 3M will continue to look for acquisitions, investing in new products, and sustain a pattern of research and development that accelerated under Buckley.
- All Things Considered, 02/08/2012, 5:20 p.m.