Ever since getting his master's degree from Harvard Business School in 1975, W. James McNerney Jr. has been a corporate nomad. He has relocated every two to three years, job-hopping his way up the ladder -- from Procter & Gamble (PG) to McKinsey & Co. to General Electric (GE) and finally to 3M (MMM), which hired him three years ago as chairman and chief executive.
Now that he has made it to the top, McNerney is showing just how savvy he became along the way. No matter that the manufacturing sector was on the skids before he even showed up at 3M. The conglomerate has been flying since McNerney rolled out his five-part productivity overhaul in 2001. Expected 2003 earnings: a record $2.4 billion, up 13.5%. Expected 2003 sales: a record $18 billion, up 10.5%. Cash flow, operating margins, share price: up, up, up.
In this age of the celebrity CEO, McNerney, 54, remains oddly invisible. In late 2000, his name was in the headlines when he lost a race to succeed Jack Welch, GE's legendary boss. Since then, McNerney has largely ducked the outside world. Instead, he spends his time meeting with fellow 3Mers. McNerney is known as a numbers guy. He sets quantitative goals for the heads of each of 3M's seven businesses and constantly monitors their performances. "Jim brought discipline," notes Charles Reich, executive vice-president of 3M's health-care business. "He has sharpened us up."
The big question for McNerney now is: What's next? Or make that: Where next? A director at Boeing Co. (BA), McNerney was asked to take over departing Philip M. Condit's position as chairman and CEO. McNerney said no. "I'm a 3Mer," he says. But, he adds, "I could pitch a tent anywhere." Given his ambition and wanderlust, 3M probably won't be McNerney's last stop.
-- Boosted 3M's presence in China and elsewhere in Asia, with sales up more than 20%.
-- Expanded the company's operating margins for seven consecutive quarters, to 22.3% in the third quarter of 2003.