While 3M continues to innovate with research and science, creating thousands of products for the healthcare, industrial, transportation and electronics industries, fundamentally it’s the company ’s hooks which fascinate consumers. Possibly even more than the Post-it Notes it launched as Press ’n Peel more than 40 years ago.
Chris LeBlanc, 3M’s Managing Director Australia and New Zealand, says the company’s Command Hooks are probably the product that most consumers don’t even know they need. Until they discover them.
“Oh, yes, these replace the traditional methods of hammering a nail into the wall to hang a picture, Christmas decorations, utensils or keys,” he explains.
“They won’t damage the wall at all and can be repositioned as needed. To me, this is unbelievable – I’m a big fan.” Whether it’s a hook, a stethoscope, supporting research into a vaccine for COVID-19, a work helmet or an acne preventative, 3M has been innovating since five businessmen founded the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company in 1902.
It has also been a steady global leader in developing adhesive goods, having produced more than 5,000 ‘sticky’ products and solutions since 1925, when 3M researcher Richard Drew invented Scotch masking tape to help auto-body painters detail cars without damaging existing paint jobs, followed by sticky tape in 1930.
Chris, who is also 3M’s Regional Business Leader for the Safety and Industrial Business Group, leads a team of about 700 people in Australia and New Zealand from headquarters in Sydney’s North Ryde and says the company’s passion for science and exploration is driven by its commitment to understand customer needs and develop solutions relevant to the marketplace.
He says it’s the vast “go-to market” that protects it from the ups and downs of the economy. “Obviously last year was very different, but because of the diversity of the portfolios we offer, 3M has been able to navigate through. While some areas may be down, others are up, and it’s that diversification that has helped us get through many, many challenges over the years.
“But to me, as the Managing Director, what really makes a difference is our people; how passionate and smart they are about developing and bringing solutions to the marketplace. That dedication, combined with our culture of collaboration, diversity and inclusion, definitely makes 3M a very unique organisation.”
Chris was appointed 3M’s Managing Director for the Australian and New Zealand region early last year. He’s spent 15 years with the company, starting in marketing and working across a variety of roles in different departments.
Describing his latest role as “terrific”, he says it’s an opportunity for the Australia and New Zealand region to have a voice.
“Even more importantly, it gives that line of hope to all the Australians and New Zealanders working with us that there is a clear career path for them in the future. And at the same time, it gives them the opportunity to better connect with the local team, and to voice their concerns and explore opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Chris likes to explore opportunities himself, spending time travelling the world extensively with his wife Estela to discover different cultures and geographies. In 2019, they visited the South Pole, reaching a longitude of 81 degrees east, and plan to get to the ultimate top of the world at latitude 90 degrees north once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted.
It’s that innate curiosity that led the couple to Australia from Venezuela in 2002, with their first culture shock being that their “American” English didn’t quite translate into Aussie slang. “And the accent!” he laughs.
Even in hard times, you have to try to find that silver lining and remember that life has two rules: one, never quit; and two, never forget rule number one.
“We were used to hearing English with American accents. Then there were all the different words for things like ‘cab’ rather than ‘taxi’. Actually, I remember our first cab ride when the driver asked, ‘Where are you heading, mate?’ I looked at my wife and said, ‘Oh my God, we don’t speak this English.’”
Today, happily settled on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and admitting he’s still “working on” some Australian expressions – particularly the pronunciation of “g’day, mate”, his favourite opening to town hall and communication meetings – Chris has adapted well to the Australian way of life.
He’s adopted an easygoing leadership style, basing his management expertise on the principle of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), a helpful method he used to navigate through the volatility and uncertainty of COVID-19.
He explains that feelings of uncertainty can create internal complexity, such as the search for solutions to keep the manufacturing and supply chain going when there is no inevitability of demand for products. That in turn creates ambiguity as efforts are made to improve cash flow by managing inventory in areas where demand is not expected to increase.
“Who was expecting that COVID-19 was going to go that big and for that long? Who knows when we’ll be back to normal?” Chris says.
“Communication, in times of uncertainty, is critical. It’s a very challenging world, but the main emphasis for us is to look ahead at the horizon and keep a positive mindset. Even in hard times, you have to try to find that silver lining and remember that life has two rules: one, never quit; and two, never forget rule number one.”