When 29 Fellows traveled to Minneapolis, October 27, for an LCLD Learning Experience at 3M’s headquarters, they learned one of the real reasons why LCLD Member Ivan Fong accepted the position there as General Counsel.

It wasn’t only that Fong had an engineering background and was intrigued by a global company with iconic brands “that actually made things.” It was the fact that in his meeting with 3M’s chief executive, the CEO brought up, without prompting, three of the subjects that Fong had come prepared to ask about: integrity, compliance, and diversity.

That was “something special,” Fong told the Fellows. Knowing that 3M’s CEO was personally committed to those issues helped seal the deal for him. Since then, 3M’s stated commitments to high standards in these three areas has “proven true,” he said.

At the Learning Experience, Penny Wise, 3M’s chief branding officer, told the story of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, a company that began in 1902 with a single product: sandpaper. 3M today is a global powerhouse, with 90,000 employees in 40 countries, customers in 200 countries, and annual sales of $32 billion. Scientists work together across disciplines and across boundaries to combine technology platforms into new products. 3M’s science appears in 50,000 products, with a third of its sales coming from products introduced in the past five years. The company recently garnered its 100,000th patent.

Fong and other corporate leaders who spoke at the Learning Experience credited 3M’s success to a culture of collaboration and innovation—and a spirit of non-stop improvement.

When the word “innovation” began to feel shopworn, for example, 3M’s leaders retired the word from the company’s marketing campaigns and in March 2015 introduced a global rebranding initiative built around the tagline: “3M Science. Applied to Life.” The campaign was launched over three days in 79 countries; in the United States alone, the tagline was seen 700 million times in various media. 

In addition to a tour of 3M’s Innovation Center, the Fellows heard from panels of 3M legal and executive leadership and had the opportunity to engage in a “fireside chat” with General Counsel Ivan Fong.

Fong’s career in itself was a compelling story.

A Fulbright Scholar at Oxford, Fong earned his J.D. (with distinction) from Stanford Law School. He also holds a bachelor of science in chemical engineering and a masters in chemical engineering practice from MIT. After law school, he clerked for Judge Abner J. Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fong joined 3M in 2012, after serving for over three years as General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the nation’s third largest cabinet department with more than 1,800 lawyers. His private sector experience includes executive legal positions at General Electric and Cardinal Health. Before those positions, he served as deputy associate attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a partner at Covington & Burling in Washington, DC.

In conversations with the LCLD Fellows, Fong shared carefully worded counsel, which he warned “may sound contradictory.” His advice: “Don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks…but have contingency plans. Sometimes it makes sense to go slow to go fast. Be confident and assertive, and have humility."

Robert Croft, a 2015 Fellow, expressed appreciation for Fong’s “candid discussion about the qualities of a leader and how he incorporates those qualities into his leadership style. It will have an impact on how I lead in the future.”

"What tied everything together for me,” said 2013 Fellow Lica Tomizuka, “was his discussion of 3M’s diversity requirements for client-relationship partners at their law firms. 3M is serious about diversity, and innovation at 3M doesn’t just take place in the research labs – it’s happening across the company, including in the legal department.”

Partners from two of 3M’s Preferred Counsel Network firms, Chris Austin of Cleary Gottlieb and LCLD Member Jerry Blackwell of Blackwell Burke, served as panelists for the “A Discussion About Diversity: Inside and Outside” discussion together with Gregg Larson, 3M Vice President and Deputy General Counsel and Ann Marie Hanrahan, Vice President of Litigation and Preventive Law. The panel focused on topics including 3M’s Preferred Counsel Network and diversity and inclusion from a corporate governance perspective.

Special thanks to the following individuals at 3M who made the Learning Experience such a success: 2014 Fellows Emily Faber-Densley and Yen Florczak, 2015 Fellows Renee Dotson-Gill and Ann Anaya, and a 3M team led by Peg Lundquist.

Additional thanks to LCLD Member law firms Larson King and Cleary Gottlieb for co-sponsoring the Learning Experience with 3M. The welcome event, sponsored by Larson King, was held at the century-old James J. Hill Center, a library built by and named for the famed railroad magnate. The reception was organized by 2013 Fellow Caryn Boisen of Larson King, whose Managing Partner is David Wilk. In addition to co-sponsoring the Learning Experience with Larson King, Cleary Gottlieb partner Chris Austin participated in the "A Discussion About Diversity: Inside and Out" panel.  The Managing Partner of Cleary Gottlieb is Mark Leddy.

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Photography by Jay Haas