With 80 days to go until 3M Co Chief Executive George Buckley hits the company's mandatory retirement age, investors seem unusually disinterested in the immediate future of the management team.
That's because Buckley is widely expected to seek to extend his contract. And a deep bench of 3M executives is ready to take over even if he doesn't stay on, an investor said.
What does interest investors greatly is what Buckley -- who turns 65 on February 23 -- will tell analysts on Tuesday in New York about 3M's strategy to tackle the tough business environment and boost revenue in 2012.
While the executive, who joined 3M six years ago, is expected to field questions about whether he can work a deal with the board allowing him to stay, the answer will not likely shape the investment case for the company.
Maybe I should be concerned, but I'm not concerned about that, Jeanie Wyatt, chief executive of South Texas Money Management in San Antonio, said. The firm owns shares of 3M and is confident in the company's succession plan, which could involve promoting 58-year-old Chief Operating Officer Inge Thulin to the top spot at some point down the road.
Wyatt's sentiment is echoed by other investors who say they would like Buckley to stay a while longer but are more focused on 3M's ability to overcome today's difficult business environment and boost revenue. The company's third quarter results missed expectations due to weakness in Europe and a soft electronics market, and its stock is trading at the lower end of its 52-week range.
3M makes products ranging from Scotch Tape to sandpaper. While sectors such as transportation, security products and health care are particularly strong for the company, electronics and touchscreen displays have suffered under weak customer demand.
We'd like just to get a little more visibility on how they will navigate global growth uncertainty, said Kevin Walkush, business analyst for Jensen Investment Management, which also owns 3M shares. Asked whether he was thinking much about the likelihood that Buckley will address his future during the outlook meeting, he said no.
Walkush said his firm expects 3M to increase revenue by 7 to 8 percent over the long term, including a small percentage of revenue from new acquisitions. He said Jensen is most interested in the 2012 outlook meeting to see if they are on track for that.
3M in October reduced its full-year organic sales volume growth forecast to a range of 3 to 4 percent, from its previous expectation of 6 to 7.5 percent.
Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services, said the firm owns 3M stock but is not adding to its position until the Minneapolis-based company can convince Wall Street that it is able to boost revenue in the face of headwinds.
For any company, the ability to drive revenue is the lifeblood, he said.
BUCKLEY EXPECTED TO STAY
A lack of intense scrutiny related to the future of 3M's management is driven partially by the expectation that Buckley will win a stay on well past his 65th birthday.
Given the pressures on 3M and the type of individual he is, we would expect him to stay on for another year or two, Pursche said.
Our preference would be have him on as long as possible. He's probably one of the strongest CEOs we've seen not only at 3M but overall.
During an investor meeting earlier in the year, Buckley said, I love being the CEO of 3M. ... If the opportunity were there, I would stay, but if it's not, then obviously the choice is taken out of my hands.
3M spokeswoman Jackie Berry said the company has nothing to say about Buckley's future at this time: I can't comment on speculation.
The other factor driving investor sentiment is that 3M has a strong replacements in the management ranks.
The biggest thing 3M has going for it is they have a very deep bench, Pursche said.
In May, following the retirement of its then-Chief Financial Officer, Buckley promoted Thulin to the newly created post of chief financial officer.
Buckley has said the company prefers to promote from within, including for his job, and that positions Thulin as the likely successor among a field of qualified candidates.
Thulin, a native of Sweden, joined 3M in 1979 in sales and marketing. Morningstar stock analyst Adam Fleck said he is well regarded by investors due to his global experience, including eight years of running international operations.
(Reporting by John D. Stoll in Detroit and Lynn Adler in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)