3M: Persistence behind Diversification
When visiting 3M’s online store, you will probably be dazed by the sheer variety of the company’s products, from water and air purifiers, to respirators, post-it and tapes. However, behind this apparent diversity, the real 3M is persistent and dedicated.
Keeping confidence in China
One of the earliest foreign companies to come to China after reform and openingup began, as much as any other company, 3M has witnessed and participated in the evolution of the Chinese economy. As it does so, it has grown to know China well, and gained great confidence in it.
By 1984, when 3M China was set up, six years after economic reform was first mooted, 3M executives responsible for international business had already been on the ground in China for years, to learn about policy and the direction that the Chinese government proposed to take. This relatively long history in China is a heritage 3M is rightly proud of and its great competitive edge.
“I think it is an absolute advantage for us. First off, by being here since the early opening period, we have been able to learn more about the market than other multinationals that have arrived more recently,” said Stephen Shafer, president of 3M China.
Even as it tried to learn more about China, 3M was also investing in localization-localization of manufacturing, R&D, and most important, leadership. This, along with the knowledge of China, has allowed 3M to be “more responsive, faster and to innovate quicker and that dates back to the foresight we had as a company back in 1984 to be one of the first multinationals here,” Shafer said.
Today, a close attention to government plans remains 3M’s watchword: The key to unlocking a market is understanding its megatrends.
Apart from a deeper understanding of China, by being here early, 3M has played an important role in the evolution of the national economy. From infrastructure construction during the 1980s and 1990s, to the advancement of manufacturing capabilities since China’s accession to the WTO in 2001, to a new emphasis on safety and environmental protection, 3M has been there during every evolutionary phase of the economy over the last 34 years.
At the upcoming CIIE, 3M will be showcasing the company’s capabilities rather than just an array of new products. For 3M, bringing in new products is really nothing special, for the company has been introducing hundreds of new products each year.
While the impact of the CIIE is yet to be seen, Shafer sees the expo as a platform for global opportunities and global innovation. Apart from sharing 3M’s capabilities with other companies, they will “learn a lot from other people who are coming and sharing with us what they are doing and what they think China’s opportunities are.”
From the earliest reforms to the CIIE, as the Chinese economy evolves, 3M is always there. Persistence and commitment in China is its own reward.
Dedicated to safety and the environment
“We view ourselves as a respiratory leader both around the world and here in China, so it is our obligation to give something back to communities,” Shafer said. It is mainly through safety education that 3M fulfills its social
When asked about the challenges 3M faces, Shafer mentioned a much faster changing market requiring companies to be more responsive and agile. Once again 3M’s commitment to innovation is self-evident.
The company now has two R&D centers in China, in Shanghai and Xi’an respectively. Back in 1984, 3M China had no more than 20 employees. By now, it has grown into an operation with 8,200 people, 600 of whom R&D staff, and holds around 1,000 local patents.
The company credits this expansion to its innovative culture and mind-set. Shafer calls R&D “the heartbeat of 3M.” He is proud of its “15 percent” principle, which allows its R&D staff to work on any projects that interest them using 15 percent of their working time.
Moreover, 3M has instituted a host of awards and recognition, such as the 3M Golden Step Award and IP award, to encourage its scientists to generate new ideas and develop patents.
“We really treat our scientists as the superstars of the company, and reward and recognize them as such,” said Shafer.
Stephen Shafer, President of 3M China.
46 technology platforms of 3M