3M Said to Prepare for Buckley’s Early Exit in 2011

3M CEO George Buckley
3M Chief Executive Officer George Buckley. Photographer: Giuseppe Aresu/Bloomberg

3M Co. directors are preparing for the earlier-than-expected departure of George Buckley as chief executive officer next year and have begun evaluating internal candidates, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

Buckley, whose contract ends when he turns 65 in February 2012, has told board members and senior officers he would like to resign next year, said the people, who declined to be identified because the talks are private. The board is focused on 3M veterans, the people said. 3M may make an announcement in early 2011 about Buckley’s plans, two of the people said.

“They have a deep bench, and there are a number of attractive internal candidates,” said Jason Feldman, a UBS AG analyst in New York who recommends buying St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M.

Jacqueline Berry, 3M spokeswoman, said Buckley hasn’t told directors and senior officers he would like to resign next year.

“Mr. Buckley has no intention of leaving the company early,” Berry said. She declined to comment when asked whether Buckley would retain his titles as CEO, chairman and president until February 2012, or whether 3M has begun evaluating internal candidates.

Buckley, who took over in 2005, is only the second CEO in 3M’s 108-year history to be recruited from outside the company, a maker of thousands of products ranging from Post-It notes to dental implants. The first was James McNerney, who led 3M from 2001 until 2005 before becoming Boeing Co.’s CEO.

Possible Candidates?

The 3M executives being considered to take over are Inge Thulin, 57, executive vice president of international operations, and Bradley Sauer, 51, executive vice president, health care, two of the people said.

Jean Lobey, 58, executive vice president of the safety, security and protection-services businesses, is a third candidate the directors may consider, one person said.

Buckley, 63, steered 3M through the recession by slashing about 6,400 jobs since the start of 2008, suspending merit pay raises and freezing hiring. 3M has gained 13 percent since his hiring was announced on Dec. 7, 2005, compared with a drop of less than 1 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

3M rose 97 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $87.34 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

Grooming a Successor

Directors encouraged Buckley after his recruitment from boat-maker Brunswick Corp. to groom executives who could take over when he retired, said one of the people familiar with his plans to step down.

Thulin, who grew up in Sweden, graduated from the University of Gothenburg School of Business and joined 3M in sales in 1979. He has worked in 3M’s operations around the world. That may give him an edge over other executives being considered for the CEO job, one of the people said.

3M wants to add $7 billion in international sales over the next five years, split equally between developed and developing markets, Thulin said in an interview with Bloomberg in Milan in May. Last year, 63 percent of the 3M’s $23.1 billion in revenue came from outside the U.S. Non-U.S. sales could account for as much as 80 percent by 2015, Thulin said in the interview.

Sauer, who has an engineering degree from the University of Minnesota, joined 3M in 1981, left to work at spinoff Imation Corp. in 1996 and 1997 and then returned. Naming Sauer as CEO would suggest heightened interest in health care at 3M, which has signaled to advisers and bankers a desire to consider more acquisitions in that industry, one of the people said.

Lobey, who was born in Algeria and educated in Paris, is a 34-year company veteran. He held marketing and management jobs in Europe and Brazil before his current assignment.

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