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3M's McNerney: Fostering Innovation -- Or Stifling It?

"3M's rising star" (Cover Story, Apr. 12) asks: Can James McNerney Jr. rev up the innovation machine of 3M? This is a question most successfully addressed by 3M Co.'s (MMM) legendary late chairman, William L. McKnight. Like Mr. McNerney, McKnight was an outstanding business analyst and was considered to be irreplaceable. Both have demonstrated the gift of understanding the impact of technology without the benefit of formal technical training. Both have developed personal power and wealth.

McKnight habitually talked individually to employees about their work and its value. He could understand enough of what a worker was doing, whether in manufacturing, sales, or science, to imagine what new business it could lead to. And he acted on his own ideas without worrying about intervening levels of management. None of McKnight's successors have been able to duplicate this feat. Perhaps McNerney can add this to his already impressive list of accomplishments.

James Tait Elder

Olympia, Wash.

Editor's note: The writer was a 3M employee from 1959 to 1986.

The sales figures show that 3M is losing market share by growing more slowly than the U.S. economy, which is not my idea of a star performance. You mention Post-it Notes, and yet a gentle, thoughtful innovator like Art Fry would not last a month in the new 3M. Six Sigma is about eliminating original thinking, not supporting innovation. Your account of McNerney's successful conclusion of a deal with Boeing Co. (BA) to sell aircraft engines shows his style: no mention of innovation or superior performance -- just an anticompetitive exclusive deal created by power in the leasing market.

John M. Legge

Surrey Hills, Australia Harvard is committed to providing full and open access to our campus. BusinessWeek remains free to contact our students for its survey, and our students are free to determine whether to respond ("Why Harvard and Wharton are wrong," Editorials, Apr. 19). We chose not to facilitate this access because we believe it inappropriate for the school, as an educational institution, to act as an agent on behalf of a commercial entity. This decision ensures consistency in our policy.

At the same time, we appreciate that prospective applicants rely on a wide range of information in finding the business schools that are right for them. Rankings are a popular component of this information, and we believe standardized, audited metrics are also important. Thus we have joined a number of other schools and the Graduate Management Admission Council, an independent nonprofit association, to develop them. Our fundamental goal is to balance the needs of our prospective students with the integrity of our learning environment.

Kim B. Clark, Dean

Harvard Business School

Boston, Mass.

Editor's note: The Graduate Management Admissions Council is a membership organization of the business-school community. I was dismayed by your "Executive Compensation scoreboard" ("Executive pay," Special Report, Apr. 19), which grades CEO compensation in relation to company stock performance from 2001 through 2003. Because Providian Financial Corp.'s stock price declined substantially in 2001, you rated my performance toward the bottom of your grading scale.

I became CEO of Providian on Nov. 26, 2001, after the stock-price decline. I was hired to turn the company around, and my team has dedicated itself to that effort ever since. Our work has paid off for shareholders. From my first day on the job to Dec. 31, 2003, Providian's stock price increased more than 300%. To put it your way, $100 invested in Providian in November, 2001, would have been worth $416 by yearend 2003, and approximately $460 today.

Joseph W. Saunders

Chairman & CEO

Providian Financial Corp. (PVN)

San Francisco

Editor's note: All CEOs on our scoreboard are given ratings when three years of compensation data are available. In "After Sharpton: The great black hopes" (Washington Outlook, Apr. 12), the authors write: "...a Republican sweep could postpone the hopes of this new generation of black politicians." Apparently they have not noticed that there are black Republicans, several of whom would make far more attractive national candidates than any black Democrat currently on the political horizon.

In a national election, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Alan Keyes, or J.C. Watts Jr. would be likely to bury any of the Democratic candidates mentioned by BusinessWeek. Indeed, the only serious challenger in such a contest would be Representative Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.). Ford may be "too conservative" for "veteran black pols," but -- un- like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Charles Rangel -- he is seen as more than simply comic relief by those outside the Democratic Party.

Chris Cary

Gibsonville, N.C.

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