3M Company: Staying Ethical, Keeping Investment Focused

Len Moult, the Middle East and Africa business leader for Safety & Graphics at 3M Company, sat down with Africa Advisory Group to talk about the meaning of leadership, keeping values and ethics a priority and the company’s new Africa investment strategy.

3M is a global company focused on innovation with roughly $32 billion in annual sales. It has operations in more than 70 countries, including Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. 3M products are sold in nearly 200 countries.

It’s really those people I look for that have that inherent value within them, that I know will go the extra mile to make sure the brand they work for is not compromised.Len Moult, 3M Company

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership to me means that natural ability of people to get up and take the lead in business situations, being proactive, not waiting to be asked, seeing an opportunity and going towards it; having the energy and charisma and the ability to manage both up, down, sideways, whichever way it means to get people to follow you or follow your vision or ideals.

Q: What leadership characteristics do you look for?

Africa unfortunately has this bad label to it that things can happen at a slower pace. And I think the reality is that within that environment you need leaders that can see beyond that and can drive the glass half full concept deeper.

The other area that I am really looking for is that natural leader that brings energy to the table, that lights up the group, that is assertive and has a passion for their own success. And once you put that with some assertiveness you have really good natural leaders that emerge in Africa.

Q: What are the biggest leadership challenges working in Africa?

The biggest challenge for us in Africa in general is really the time it takes to get things done. Also, with a big world class organization like ours we don’t look at any business that’s not 100% squeaky clean, as we call it. Unfortunately, Africa has developed that label again where things can get done if you are prepared to fund it. The frustration for us is being up against unfair competition where the playing field is not level.

So again coming back to leadership, it’s really those people I look for that have that inherent value within them, that I know will go the extra mile to make sure the brand they work for is not compromised. So that ethics and compliance capability to me is vital.

Q: What is 3M’s approach to investing in Africa?

Our view on Africa is actually quite an interesting one. Yes, we did jump into it with maybe both feet about three years ago. When I say both feet it’s still our cautious approach. We took stock of our progress at the beginning of this year. We were fundamentally in most of the right countries but we decided to maybe be a little sharper in our focus in the various countries. Some of the markets we thought would be really buoyant in those areas proved not to be. The mining and resources kind of came down on its head just after we moved in.

So we’ve had a very good look at the countries we want to be in. We’ve now gone the route of investing with a sharper focus but more heavily. We are optimistic about Africa. The growth rates are high. Yes the base is low but the growth rates are high. If you’re prepared to put structure in and drive it you will make a good living in Africa. Hence the point of view of looking for good leadership I outlined earlier on. It’s an exciting space for us. Me personally, I’ve always kept my career except for a brief stint in the U.S. in Africa. I do think the day will come, the rain will come in Africa. It’s starting to. There are a lot of opportunities in the continent.

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