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.