3M Company (NYSE: MMM) is diversified technology company with worldwide operations, founded in 1902. It is headquartered in Maplewood, Minn., and currently led by Chairman and CEO Inge Thulin.
It's surprisingly easy to boil down a company known for thousands of products that permeate everyday life: Since its earliest days, 3M has specialized in making things rough, sticky, or smooth. Appropriately enough, its early years were certainly rough, and occasionally sticky, but hardly ever smooth.
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company got its start as a mining concern, digging for minerals used to make sandpaper. But the founders had bad luck right from the start; as it turned out, they were mining the wrong substance, and what they had was worthless. When they tried to import another kind of abrasive mineral from Europe, it arrived saturated with the olive oil with which it had been shipped, making it nearly useless for sandpaper.
But this apparent misstep ultimately put the company on the right track. After clever engineers roasted the mineral to get rid of the oil, the company founded a research and development department to make sure such a blunder never happened again. Since 1916, the invention of new and useful products has been 3M's bread and butter. Depending on the source you consult, between one-fourth and one-third of 3M's revenue each year comes from new products.
In addition to the sandpaper that gave the company its start, 3M is now best known for Scotch brand adhesive tape, Scotchgard stain protection for fabrics, Thinsulate insulating fabric, and the humble Post-it note, introduced in 1980 after a 3M engineer devised a bookmark that would stick to a particular page, but easily unstick itself. The company helped pioneer magnetic audio and video tape (a business spun off in 1996 as Imation), and created the synthetic fabric used in the soles of Neil Armstrong's boots when he became the first man on the moon. Among many other products, the company also specializes in building materials and medical supplies.
3M operates in 28 states throughout the U.S.A. and more than 80 countries worldwide. It ranked 365th on the 2011 Fortune Global 500 list of the world's largest companies; in fiscal 2011, it posted $29.6 billion in net sales and $4.28 billion in net income. If you think you might have trouble remembering those statistics, perhaps you should write them on a Post-it and stick it to your monitor. 3M would probably thank you.
3M maintains six operating segments:
- Consumer and office
- Display and graphics
- Electro and communications
- Health care
- Industrial and transportation
- Safety, security, and protection
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