Like 'Acme inc' in Bugs Bunny cartoons, 3M is a diversified conglomerate. They sell 50 000 (fifty-thousand!) product lines. From bandages for weeping wounds to heavy-duty sandpaper for the automotive industry to cream to ease genital warts to holographic films for passports to software sold to the basements of hospitals across the world. No anvils though (yet)

The reason for all of this diversification is a culture that encouraged innovation and creativity. 1/3 of its sales are generated from products introduced in the past four years. In fact, at one time, employees were told to spend a percentage of their time on inventing something new. Things are changing. Now that the manufacturing sector has been hit so hard, the company is focusing more on cost-cutting measures with its new CEO GE superstar Jim McNurney.

Buying a 3M stock is like buying a mutual fund. When one industry is down others are up so the negative effect is buffered. Nevertheless, in an economy where products are becoming more complex and companies are getting increasingly specialized, a conglomorate like 3M may be becoming yesterday's news.

NB: Now that you know that you probably have several 3M products in your life without even knowing it, now you should know that there is a little 3M in you too. It was discovered that there is an innocuous molecule in Scotchguard that is showing up in people. As soon as 3M discovered this, they changed the formula to stop using this chemical, even though no harmful effects were discovered.

"As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way."
William L. McKnight, former 3M President

Based out of St. Paul, Minnesota, 3M is a massive company that makes a really wide range of stuff. Billing themselves as a "Diversified technology company," I can't say I disagree with that description. 3M's main strength certainly seems to lie in the diversity of the products they create. In 2003, they had worldwide sales of over $18 billion US, with a net income of over $2.4 billion.

The products and services they produce/provide are grouped under these following headings:

3M seems to be a company that promotes innovation amongst its employees. To this end, they even supposedly (according to their website) have a so called 15% rule, which allows their employees to spend up to 15% of their time at work exploring experiments. How widespread this rule is implemented is unknown to me, although for some reason I have a feeling it doesn't quite apply to every one of their 67,000 employees worldwide. Perhaps just the technical staff.

This attitude is due largely to William L. McKnight, who served as chairman of the board from 1949 to 1966, and his idea that management should have a more hands off approach with their employees in order to encourage innovation.

Founded in 1902, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company started out mining what they initially thought was corundum, a material used for making sandpaper and grinding wheels. Turned out what they were mining wasn't corundum, and they almost went out of business. They stuck with it, and started making sandpaper with materials purchased from elsewhere.

The 1920's brought forth the invention of Scotch tape, someone working for 3M had a good idea, and despite the fact that 3M didn't make stuff in that field, they decided to go for it. It worked out for them, and this soon became a pattern at 3M.

Unlike most companies, the 1930’s were a good time for 3M. The company was able to expand upon its sales, facilities, and its number of employees. By the end of the decade, they had established their central research laboratory, and expanded into 5 areas of business, abrasives, masking tape, Scotch tape, roofing materials, and adhesives.

World War II brought increased growth to the company, as the war effort required more abrasives than ever. They also invented Duct Tape during the war, which was originally invented to waterproof containers of ammunition. The 50's saw them move into the area of health care, starting with surgical tape, and expanding from there.

Since then, 3M has been expanding its operations both globally, and in the scope of their work. They are one of the 30 companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and are traded on the New York, Pacific, Chicago, and Swiss stock exchanges, symbol MMM.

Now a days they make everything from Post-it notes to overhead projectors, to safety masks to Scotchgard to video film to stethoscopes, to security badges, to corrosion protection and a whole lot of other things.

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