3M Names Operations Chief Said to Be in Line for CEO’s Job

3M Co. promoted one of three executives said to be in line to succeed Chief Executive Officer George Buckley, naming Inge G. Thulin to the new post of operations chief.

Thulin, 57, will continue running international operations in addition to his new responsibilities and report to Buckley, 3M said today in a statement. The CEO’s contract expires in February on his 65th birthday, unless he and the board agree to extend it.

Buckley, who is also chairman, said in a January interview that he considered an internal hire to be an “imperative,” after taking over in 2005 as only the second CEO ever recruited from outside St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M. Bloomberg reported in December that Thulin was among the contenders being considered for the top spot.

“This announcement probably continues to strengthen that belief that he’s a very strong candidate for the position,” said Jeff Windau, a St. Louis-based analyst with Edward Jones.

3M declined to make Thulin available for an interview. The company isn’t “announcing anything relative to succession today,” said Donna Fleming Runyon, a spokeswoman.

Thulin will oversee 3M’s six businesses. The company manufactures products for the health care, consumer, automotive and energy markets, including respiratory masks and touch-screen films for tablet computers, making it an economic bellwether.

COO Role

The chief operating officer job has been increasingly used to prepare an executive to become CEO, according to Thomas Kolder, president of executive recruiting firm Crist|Kolder Associates in Hinsdale, Illinois.

“I doubt that the company all of the sudden decided that our structure demands that we have to have a COO and we will have one now for eternity,” Kolder said of 3M’s move today. “It’s more likely that the definition has been put forth to create this position” so Thulin can work alongside Buckley, he said in an interview.

Thulin’s appointment “represents continuing development of 3M’s leadership team with the goal of ensuring that 3M remains on a strong growth track for many years to come,” Buckley said in the statement.

3M fell 55 cents to $95.46 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have gained 11 percent this year.

Three Contenders

3M considered Thulin and two other executives, Bradley Sauer, executive vice president of health care, and Jean Lobey, executive vice president of the safety and security businesses, to succeed Buckley, Bloomberg reported in December, citing people familiar with discussions. Lobey is retiring June 1, the company said in April.

A native of Sweden, Thulin joined 3M in 1979 in that country and held about nine management positions before leading international operations starting in 2003. He is a board member for lawnmower maker Toro Co. and serves on the executive committee for the U.S. Council for International Business.

Thulin received total compensation last year valued at $4.91 million, the third-highest of 3M’s executives, regulatory filings show. Buckley was paid the most, followed by former Chief Financial Officer Patrick D. Campbell, who retired May 1.

Naming Thulin as COO gives him “broader exposure within the organization,” said Windau, who has a “buy” rating on 3M. “Depending on what the timing is, it definitely gives everyone the opportunity to continue to see his management style.”

About 70 percent of 3M’s $26.7 billion in sales last year were generated outside the U.S., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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