Lead In, Lead Out: Mike Roman, Executive Spotlight
Monday, March 23, 2020
BY ANDRE EGGERT
LENGTH OF TIME AT THE COMPANY
Few business leaders have their finger on the pulse of the world economy quite like 3M CEO and Chairman of the Board Mike Roman. While consumers perhaps know 3M products as those found in the office-supply aisle at Target, the manufacturing giant has plants located across the globe, providing products in industries ranging from mobile phones to automobiles. This cross-country, cross-industry reach gives Roman and his team have a broad view of the world economy.
Roman sat down with the Carlson School to discuss said economy, his background, and how today’s grads can become tomorrow’s business leaders.
Many people know 3M as the company that creates Post-It Notes or Scotch Tape—consumer-facing products. But 3M is obviously more than that. How would you describe it?
While our consumer products are a great part of our story, they don’t provide the whole picture of what we do. I would start with our vision: We take our technology and help advance every company; we take our products and enhance every home; we take our innovation and improve life. For 117 years, we’ve found customers seeking solutions that our technologies—and the products that come from them—provide.
Is there a sector 3M works in that might surprise people?
I think the depth of 3M’s involvement in many sectors would surprise someone. If you told people we were in automobiles, they’d say, “Oh, of course you are.” What they wouldn’t realize is that we touch so many different areas of the process: We have tapes and adhesives that help assemble the car. We have acoustic solutions to make the car quieter. We have solutions that improve fuel efficiency. We’re now moving into automobile electronics and displays, such as the heads-up systems [which project information onto the windshield, allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road rather than glancing at the dashboard].
How did you end up working here?
It was almost happenstance that I ended up working here. I had been with another company for about six years when I came to the Twin Cities to interview with some companies. Just before I was supposed to head to the airport, I got an opportunity to stop by the 3M campus, where I was told they had openings. I couldn’t pass it up: 3M was one of the top 20 electronics companies in the United States and the technology was interesting. As an electronics engineer, I knew I’d be able to apply these technologies across multiple businesses and markets, have the opportunity to work globally, and maybe one day I’d be able to lead a business. And, of course, 3M’s reputation and culture of collaboration were draws. I accepted an offer within the week.
What makes 3M a unique company?
I think the big ideas driving our company are unique. You just don’t see many companies that end up in as many markets as we are and yet have synergy across their enterprise. Our core competencies are technology and manufacturing, which has enabled us to enter markets as diverse as healthcare, retail, electronics, transportation, and general industry.
Was running a Fortune 100 company ever part of your career plan?
When I first arrived at 3M, I don’t think I could even spell “CEO.” I came here for the culture of opportunity—I like the idea of being able to work internationally, of being able to be somewhere and grow. I often tell people that five to 10 years into your career, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to do and if the company you’re currently working for is a good fit for achieving that goal. It was about five years in that I knew I wanted to lead a business, and I could see the possibility of that happening at 3M. Then I had to make the effort to position myself to be able to do it.
What did your path look like?
I was able to move from a lab manager to a technical management role to a business manager. I had somebody who was willing to take a chance on me—I wasn’t a slam-dunk of a business leader. I had never done it. But I proved myself and that led to other opportunities, including overseas in Europe. From there I progressed to lead a division, then a group of divisions, and finally to my roles as COO and CEO. But the turning point was being able to move from technical management to business leadership and the opportunities that brought me.
There’s conflict all around the world: trade wars, slowing economies, etc. 3M is known for being something of a leading indicator of what’s to come. What challenges do you see ahead?
I tell investors that when things slow down, we often lead in and then lead out. Sometimes that’s a global recession, other times it’s a market or industry slowdown. During those periods, our goal is to innovate and execute well so that when markets recover, we’re at the leading edge of new opportunities. In 2019, we’ve seen negative growth rates in China, the automotive industry, and electronics.
Where does 3M see opportunities for growth or expansion?
There’s a lot to be positive about: Retail spending is strong and GDP looks good relative to industrial production. Because of that, we’re seeing opportunities in our consumer business. Markets such as healthcare are seeing good growth, especially specific areas such as wound care, where we are strong. We’re also always looking for spaces where innovation can play a big role. Take, for example, automotive electrification. As powertrains become electric, you’re going to greatly increase the number of electronics required in vehicles—some of which haven’t even been developed yet. That’s great for us, because it allows us to drive growth through new solutions.
What makes the Twin Cities a good place to do business?
The Twin Cities has proven to be a place that can attract and retain top talent. The Twin Cities has been our headquarters location for 100 years—it’s our home base, and we take full advantage of it. Because of our strong reputation, we are able to draw people in.
The so-called “silver tsunami” of retiring Baby Boomers could result in places like Minnesota (and the U.S. generally) with a shortage of workers. How do you think about the future workforce and remaining competitive?
One way we do this is through our “Science for Community” initiative, which is intended to promote STEM at all levels of education. We partner with high schools, we partner with the University of Minnesota and other higher education institutions, we sponsor programs and provide scholarships—all to achieve this goal. In elementary education, we have our “Visiting Wizards” program where we’re trying to encourage students to start thinking about a future in STEM. 3M isn’t successful if it can’t attract top talent from across the globe. So it starts with getting people interested in careers in STEM, but then the other side is keeping them interested once they do start work—we want to be able to attract talent and keep them for 30 years.
What advice do you have for students graduating this spring who aspire to one day lead a business?
Look for a company where you can build relevant skills that are useful both to you and the organization. If you have a business degree and you want to start off in marketing, find a company where you can build your marketing skills. If you want to run a business, you’ll need to get a broader set of skills over time, which means finding companies that give you the opportunity to delve into many different areas. You might not find the perfect fit in your first or second job, but if you’re building relevant skills, it can still be an incredibly valuable experience.
This article appeared in the Spring 2020 alumni magazine
This issue of our alumni magazine focuses on our world, how we take part in it, and how we, as a community, are making it a better place.