Monday, October 7, 2019
BY ANDRE EGGERT
H.B. Fuller isn’t a household name, but it’s likely that nearly everyone has benefited from the products they manufacture.
The Twin Cities-based company is an international leader in adhesives, which are used in nearly every industry—from flooring to textiles to hygiene products to clean energy and beyond. Their products literally hold the world together.
It also gives CEO Jim Owens a broad view of the business world. He’s leading a multibillion-dollar company that’s pushing into new industries and developing life-changing products. He graciously took time to talk with us about how adhesives improve the world, his background, and the importance of business in creating change.
H.B. Fuller is an adhesives company—an industry that most people don't think about often. How are the company’s products used around the globe?
H.B. Fuller is the largest company in the world focused solely on adhesives and has the second-largest market share in this diverse space. We sell to customers in more than 125 countries and have 30 technology centers and 72 manufacturing factories around the world. We’ve been in business for more than 130 years and celebrated our 50th anniversary as a publicly traded company last year.
Adhesives are used in more ways than most people know. We ensure cardboard boxes and flexible food packaging protect food from farm to table. We give caregivers peace of mind with better disposable diapers. We enable high-tech in everything from refrigerators to cars. Our adhesives are helping to provide access to clean water with our filtration technology. We make your hiking gear more durable and perform better under a wide range of conditions. I could go on and on for hours about all of the incredible ways that adhesives are literally connecting the world’s great ideas.
You’ve been involved in the adhesives industry your entire working life. How did you end up there, and why have you stuck around?
I joined an adhesive company right out of college and found the work to be interesting, diverse, and very rewarding. I combined my technical skill set with a business degree that helped me understand what it took to be successful in this space. Early on, I got a great deal of experience working internationally and across different market segments.
Over the years, I have used that experience to help businesses solve problems, enter new markets, and grow in new industries. I’ve found my work and this business interesting and exciting for all 33 years that I’ve been working in this industry.
What’s the most interesting part of your job?
The people. H.B. Fuller is a very global company. In fact, it’s one of the most global in the Twin Cities. In my job, I get to meet people from nearly every country and culture in the world and help them not only solve business problems but also develop as professionals and leaders. That’s the part of my job that I enjoy the most.
Was your plan to become a CEO?
No, my plan wasn’t to become CEO. But my plan has always been to be the best that I can be. Finding new ways to solve problems. Helping people make a difference for customers. These things have always been my passion, and in doing that, I gained a lot of skills, experiences, and insights that made me a good candidate to become CEO.
My philosophy has always been to tackle challenges and opportunities, and if you do good work, good things happen.
Where are the best opportunities for growth in your industry?
The adhesives business is enabling customers to develop new products and processes that solve their most challenging problems. We do this in just about every industry from cell phones to construction materials to airplanes to packaging.
The best opportunities for us are where there are changes and improvements happening. In today’s world, that means new electronic devices, electric-powered vehicles, sustainable packaging, building materials and other solutions that build higher degrees of energy efficiency. It means enabling more durable and lightweight materials to build trucks and trailers without rivets and screws. It means helping produce more effective hygiene products for babies and adults. These are just a few examples of how the adhesives industry is accelerating product innovation.
Tackle challenges and opportunities, and if you do good work, good things will happen.
Are there any headwinds or trends in your line of work that give you concern?
International trade is important for businesses and economies to grow. In some countries, their restrictions on business transactions slow down the flow of trade. In my view, this isn’t good for any business whether it’s locally or globally focused—including ours.
How did you get involved with the Carlson School?
Our former CEO, Elmer Andersen, was an active participant in the Carlson School community. In fact, the endowment of the Chair in Global Corporate Social Responsibility, Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship, which the dean holds, was based on his and the company’s involvement with the school.
I’ve been a supporter of business education for decades, and I wanted to make a difference here in Minnesota. We have a great climate of corporate social responsibility, which the Carlson School is playing an important role in expanding.
Why is serving on the Board of Overseers important to you?
Being on the Board of Overseers allows me to support Dean Zaheer and her efforts to create one of the country’s best business schools. I get more involved with the great things that are happening in business locally, regionally, and globally. I’m also able to hear from other business leaders about their challenges and share my international business experience to provide insight and help solve those challenges.
Why do you believe the Twin Cities is a good place to do business?
The Twin Cities is a great place to do business because of the talented people and the shared sense of social responsibility of senior business leaders. There’s a strong commitment to giving back and making our community stronger. I see a lot of thought and planning around what’s needed in terms of investment for the future.
We read a lot about corporate greed in the world, but I see the opposite here in the Twin Cities. I am surrounded by peers and other business leaders who are thoughtful about the future and really care about our shared success.
What advice do you have for students who might be interested in business?
Most people, unless they work in the government, nonprofit, or education sectors, will end up with a career in business. Governments create frameworks that education and nonprofit organizations support from a development and social perspective. It’s my perspective, however, that only businesses can create real solutions that drive change in the world.
Businesses bring all of the important things that we want as a society into existence, whether that’s more affordable and accessible healthcare, healthier and safer food, improved sustainable packaging, or greener and smarter vehicles. Advancements in the quality of life for all of us will be created and driven by people in business. If you want to make the world a better place, the best place to do that is by making a difference in business.
This article appeared in the Fall 2019 alumni magazine
The Carlson School is celebrating its centennial. In this issue, we examine our storied history (and the people that made it possible) and look forward to the next 100 years of excellence.