3M Names COO; Will He Succeed Buckley?

Inge G. Thulin was appointed to the newly created position of executive vice president and chief operating officer-prompting speculation that he's in line to succeed CEO George Buckley, whose contract expires in February; a 3M spokeswoman said Thulin is among a "wide range of candidates" under consideration for the CEO position. />

Maplewood-based 3M Company has promoted Inge G. Thulin to the newly created position of executive vice president and chief operating officer (COO)-a move that's believed to indicate that he's in line to succeed CEO George Buckley.

Thulin officially began his new role with the company on May 1-and in it, he'll oversee 3M's six businesses and international operations. Thulin, 57, has served as vice president of international operations since 2003. In his new role, he'll report to Buckley.

When asked whether Thulin's new position was meant to position him to become Buckley's successor, 3M spokeswoman Donna Fleming Runyon told Twin Cities Business: “The board of directors is considering a wide range of candidates. The COO is among those.” Runyon declined to reveal whether the candidates under consideration are internal, external, or both.

Buckley's contract expires in February 2012 when he'll turn 65-thecompany's mandatory retirement age for top executives. It's unknown whetherthe board will change the retirement policy to allow him to stay, and Runyon declined to comment on that.

In December, Bloomberg reported that 3M directors were preparing for the earlier-than-expected departure of Buckley, although company officials denied that claim. Citing unnamed sources “with knowledge of the matter,” Bloomberg said that Thulin and two other 3M executives were being considered to take the helm following Buckley's departure. (The other two were Bradley Sauer, executive vice president of health care, and Jean Lobey, executive vice president of the safety, security, and protection-services business-although the company has since announced that Lobey will retire on June 1.)

Thomas Kolder, president of executive recruiting firm Crist|Kolder Associates in Hinsdale, Illinois, told Bloomberg that the COO job has increasingly been used to prepare an executive to become CEO.

“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 told Bloomberg. “It's more likely that the definition has been put forth to create this position” so that Thulin can work alongside Buckley.

“The appointment of Inge 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 a statement.

According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Thulin's total compensation last year was valued at $4.91 million, the third-highest among 3M executives (after Buckley and former Chief Financial Officer Patrick D. Campbell, who retired on May 1).

Buckley, who has been CEO since 2005, is only the second CEO in 3M's history to be recruited from outside the company. In December, he told Bloomberg, “I'm going to stay with the company as long as the board lets me.”

Earlier this month, at the company's annual investor meeting, Buckley's response when the wife of a 3M employee urged him not to leave was: “Thank you. It's best I say nothing else.”

3M is Minnesota's fifth-largest public company based on its 2009 revenue, which totaled $23.1 billion. The company reported revenues of $26.7 billion in 2010.