3M Company mining to sandpaper and beyond
About thirty years ago I was out of work and attended some meetings on the subject of techniques for finding work. There was a deep recession at the time and unemployment was high. Many women were getting into the job market and the baby boom population was graduating from college. We had discussions and there were guest speakers from industry to give us tips. One such speaker was a personnel representative from 3M Corporation. We were in St. Paul, Minnesota where 3M has its corporate headquarters and even back then it was a major company with a large campus complex of buildings.
She related some amusing stories and some practical advice. Most important is to do some research on the company you interview with. Back then the company name was Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, thus 3M was its nickname. She said that often if she asked an applicant why they wanted to work for her company they would reply that they were always interested in mining. I might add that Minnesota was a state with a lot of mining, especially Iron ore back then. However, 3M was not one of the companies doing iron mining. In fact, as she pointed out, it had not been involved with mining for at least 30 years. In fact, that was only in its early days. In addition, its mining days were not very successful. Another thing she said was when interviewing applicants for sales jobs they would often say they wanted to be in sales because they liked people. Again, a bad response. Salesmen, she told us, should know how to like their own company because they spend a lot of time alone. At least they did back then. They would spend long hours driving and then sign into a motel. Maybe after that they might have to drive several miles to get a meal or a cup of coffee. Not too much socializing.
I thought this woman had some interesting insights about applicants and she defied some occupational stereotypes. Along the way we learned something about her company. Like the people in the room 3M had its share of failures and successes in its early days.
I forget where I heard it, but sand was the start of 3M’s road to where it is today. As I recall the properties they were planning to mine did not have much to justify mining. It appears there was nothing but sand. There is an old saying that “If someone hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” In this case if you’re stuck with a bunch of sand, make sandpaper. That is essentially what they did. Someone came up with the idea of affixing the sand to paper. For this they had to develop an appropriate adhesive. That was the start of more 3M products. The company went on to invent more adhesives and tape.
William L. McKnight
One of the most important figures in the success of 3M was William L. McKnight. Joseph and Cornelia McKnight went to South Dakota in the year of 1880 to homestead some land. William was the third child. When he got older he attended the Duluth Business University and when he graduated he went to work for what is now 3M in 1907 as an assistant bookkeeper.
McKnight was an astute individual and he soon realized the company he had joined was having financial difficulties. He suggested ideas for better products and financial savings. This led to his being promoted to the position of cost accountant. After that he was appointed to oversee the Chicago office of the company. By 1914 he became 3M’s General Manager and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, the company headquarters. He was 29 years old when he became the company’s vice-president. When the company president fell ill McKnight virtually ran the company. In 1929 he became the company’s president.
resource 3M History
- History - 3M US Company Information
Resources Spotlight; ; ; Resources
The founding of 3M dates back to 1902 in Two Harbors, Minnesota, a town on Lake Superior. According to the company website five business men had the intention of mining a mineral deposit for grinding-wheel abrasives. This didn’t pan out and they moved to Duluth, Minnesota to work on sandpaper products.
After years of struggle the company paid its first dividend in 1916.
However, over the years the accomplishment have been impressive and contributed many useful, if not always glamorous products to the public. Some of these are:
· Waterproof sandpaper in the 1920s
· Masking tape, invented by Richard G. Drew, a lab assistant.
· Scotch® cellophane tapes.
· World War II brought 3M into defense materials. That led to things like Scotchlite™ Reflective Sheeting for highway markings. They also got into magnetic sound recording tape and filament adhesive tape. They also got involved with graphic arts with offset printing plates in this period of the 1940s.
· 1950’s brought them to introducing the Thermo-Fax™ copy process. And several other products.
· In the 1960’s dry-silver microfilm was introduced. In addition they introduced photographic products, carbonless papers, overhead projection systems and the health care business of medical and dental products.
· This Minnesota based company continues to contribute products and ideas to the market.
In my opinion, the attribute of success and failure seem to hold true whether for an individual or an organization. Many people face failure several times in their life and finally find whatever it is that spells success for them. This same thing has happened in the lifespan of 3M. It started out on the wrong track and was headed in the wrong direction. By reevaluating their position they turned the company onto the path to being successful. In the case of this company a smart manager led the company to major standing in several innovative projects and products. However, like many individuals looking for the right place in life they made it only after some failures and setbacks but by constantly being open to new ideas and creative management. What people like McKnight did at 3M individuals have to do with their own lives.
Copyright 2012 Don Hoglund