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Featured image: Navigating the Balance of Ambition and Returns in Global R&D

Navigating the Balance of Ambition and Returns in Global R&D

Cordell Hardy, PhD, Senior Vice President of Corporate R&D Operations

“To value a portfolio, you have to be able to forecast and if you're not in the business of delivering on forecasts, then your innovative roadmap is not going to turn out to be too valuable.”

In this episode, we are joined by Cordell Hardy, PhD, Senior Vice President of Corporate R&D Operations at 3M. With more than 20 years of experience at 3M, Cordell is a seasoned R&D leader driving business growth by combining skillful management, technical breadth, and business acumen on a global scale.

Having shared responsibility for a wide range of products worldwide, Cordell has become a true expert in the field of portfolio management. In this informal exchange, we not only explore the question of what a balanced portfolio looks like and how this "balance" can be achieved but also learn about the role that the net present value and the degree of innovation of new investments play in this context. Want to know more? Listen to the full episode!

Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.

R&D and innovation at 3M

Chris: Hi and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth and in this episode, I'm thrilled to welcome Cordell Hardy, Senior Vice President, Corporate R&D Operations at 3M. Cordell, thanks a lot for joining us. It's a pleasure having you on the show. My pleasure as well, Chris. Thank you so much. Alright, and as always, we start straight away with a short 60 seconds introduction sprint. This is all about you, your career, and your current role at 3M. So, yeah, for the next 60 seconds, the stage is all yours. Let's go.

Cordell: Sure. Well, I am Cordell Hardy and I've been at 3M for just about 20 years now, all in different technical capacities, first as an individual contributor and then as a manager and now as a senior executive. My group provides a range of functions. We'll get into that all over the world. 40 plus countries and I am sort of died in the red 3M. I've only worked at 3M my entire career, married four kids and have been in the state of Minnesota for all of that time.

Chris: Alright, that was on spot. Alright, next up, you know, just to get you know, you just a little bit better. I do have three sentence starters. If you know, I'd like to ask you to complete those sentences. Let's see what happens. Number one goes like this. If I had to describe the last 12 months with an emoji, it would be what kind of emoji?

Cordell: Sure. Well, I think maybe the wide-eyed staring emoji, just thinking about all that's transpired in the last 12 months, business-wise, worldwide, geopolitical tensions, the war in Ukraine, supply chain challenges, COGs, inflation, pandemic restrictions evolving, and the list goes on. So just quite a bit for us to take in and at the risk sometimes of seeming overwhelming.

Chris: So I think that would be my emoji. I think I looked this up in Emojipedia. It's a website, actually. It's called Flushed Face. So maybe that that's kind of describing it in the best way. Okay, got it. Really nice. Okay, number two in the last five years, the new belief, behavior or habit that has most improved my life is?

Cordell: Sure. Yeah, I think I'm middle-aged, I suppose. Right. And so I think back to basics with sleep, nutrition, exercise and balance as as you go through a career and life, it's easy to allow the pressures and the opportunities to sort of push one aside from that. And actually the way to stay most productive over time is to really keep that balance. And so I've really embraced trying to be healthy and holistic spiritually, mentally, physically, relationally during these last five years.

Chris: And I think that served well. That's, I guess, maybe one maybe the most important thing to do not only these days, but you know, throughout your life. I totally agree. Okay, finally, one advice I would give my younger self is?

Cordell: A good question. I, you know, reflecting on this a bit, there's a lot. I mean, as a human, we're not perfect. And so just looking back over my life, there are lots of things maybe I could have handled differently. But the umbrella for those is is alignment to purpose. Thinking about what your perspective is on why you're here and what you're here for. And then aligning your work, your relationships, your your personal habits and even your hobbies and fun things around that. And it doesn't mean to work all the time. That's actually not our purpose. Right. So just being holistic and thinking about purpose and getting after that from an early age and being really disciplined about that, I think, would be advice I would give my my younger self.

Chris: I guess for many, it's actually quite hard to not also think about that, but actually find it. Right. So that's a process. It takes some time. You need to reflect and you think about this and then align basically everything you do with that.

Cordell: Interesting. Absolutely. I agree. And as we were talking about innovation through the conversation, that purpose piece becomes very important.

Chris: You can't do that very successfully as an enterprise without having that sort of introspective view. Absolutely. And that's one thing. Also, Cordell, I learned that you were, for example, invited to serve also at a few nonprofit organizations. Right. So aside from 3M, you do a lot of stuff, including serving the Minnesota Community Care. Can you tell me something about that? What's that? What are you doing there? And what does it help the community?

Cordell: Oh, thank you for raising that. So I am the board chair for Minnesota Community Care, and that's the state's largest federally qualified health clinic. And so we operate something around 17 different sites around the Twin Cities Metro. And they primarily focus on serving the underserved population here in the Twin Cities Metro. So nobody is turned away for lack of ability to pay. Very diverse patient base. You have white, black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian immigrant population, homeless population. And so it's a great honor to help serve that organization and its mission of providing health care access for all and helping to advance on social determinants of health in a more holistic way.

Chris:  Well, that is not a purpose in itself. I don't know what else is. Right. Absolutely. Very gratifying. And it's important work in the community. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. It totally is. And now looking a bit at 3M, originally called the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. You know, it was founded back in, you know, 19 something, I guess, 1902. And as of today, it produces a whopping number of more than, I guess, 60,000 products or something under several brands. That's amazing. And of course, you know, throughout the time, 3M has had to reinvent itself over and over again. And as a senior vice president for corporate R&D operations, as I learned, you are responsible for leading a both geographically but also functionally diverse group, a technical organization supporting business groups around the world within 3M. So what exactly is that organization responsible for?

Cordell: Sure. So maybe just to echo some of your comments about how 3M is formatted. So we report externally as four different business groups. And those business organizations each have a group president and they have end-to-end responsibility for strategic planning and marketing, sales, operations, R&D. And they operate globally. That arrangement was or configuration or operating model for the company was deployed at the beginning of 2020. And with that, there's a need for the sort of enterprise infrastructural technical support around the world as well, wherever we operate. Regulatory compliance, for example, that's an enterprise concern, not just one business. Right. If you need to do analytical lab work or pilot scale up or if you want to go into a digital studio and make a video demoing a product, you don't want each of those businesses to have to replicate all of that structure around the world. So R&D operations, our organization is responsible for providing that sort of umbrella enterprise technical capability. And so we operate, as you mentioned, in a very geographically diverse setting. And we have a range of functions, including some of the ones I just mentioned, as well as external connections, university relations, the HR technical partnership to make sure that our succession planning and talent visibility is done according to plan and in a range of other things. So it's a fairly large and diverse organization.

Chris: And how many people work in that organization, just roughly? Yeah, it's several hundred. Wow, that's massive. Yeah. Very cool. And, you know, I'm addressing that and more specifically also R&D and innovation, which is one of the core talking points today. What we see is that I don't know how you think about this, but many companies branding themselves as innovative, including, of course, 3M. But I'm always wondering, you know, what does that mean? What does that mean, like, you know, practically?  Do you, for example, think the word is at risk of maybe being overused or at some point in time also commoditized?

Cordell: Yeah, Chris, it's a really good question. And absolutely, at least the risk is there. If you think about a claim to being innovative and going maybe beyond the dictionary definition of being original and creative and thinking, if you're thinking about a firm, it's original and creative and provision of solutions and new products and ideas that actually impact the marketplace. And as soon as you start to do that, there's a benefit in making that claim. Right. It's good for retention. It's good for recruiting employees. Governments want innovative companies to be a part of their ecosystem. They'll offer incentives. It's nice to do business as a customer with innovative companies. And so lots of benefits to making that claim. But the bar is somewhat subjective. If I say I have 100 percent gender pay equity, or I'm an ethical company or my sales growth is X, you can objectively measure that. But what's the objective measure for being innovative? It's less so. And so because there's a large benefit to being seen and branded as innovative and there's a subjective bar, and it's the low barrier to entry to making the claim, then there is absolutely that risk of the meaning of the word, the benefit of that being diluted over time. So there are surveys and lists for larger companies. BCG has a very popular one. So most innovative companies. And so for larger firms, for sure, if you're making claims like that, you expect to see some external recognition of it. But I think as much as we can in industry to try to protect the value of the claim of being an innovative firm, it's to our benefit.

Chris: Right. And I think building on that, the urge to innovate, to do innovation is not new. I mean, every organization probably at some point in time was built on the products or doing something new, better and more valuable for community, for companies, whatever. But I guess doing science in a profitable way is a completely different game. Right. Because, of course, you can say marketing, innovation here, transformation there, where the coolest, greatest company, and we do everything better. But really doing science in a profitable way is a huge challenge. So now in order to catalyze growth and make sure you actually deliver on ambitious transformation ambitions, leaders, I guess, must set bold aspirations, make tough calls and also mobilize resources at scale. So that's the game. Now, in your opinion, what does separate winning companies from others who are just, you know, muddling along?

"In contrast to just 'muddling along', you should rather follow the practice of deliberately investing in opportunities that are unseen and having the conviction to work on those for sometimes years before having the fruits showing up in the financial system."

Cordell: What's one of the key differentiators? Yeah, that's a great question. And so I would imagine many C-suite executives are wrestling with that all the time. And that muddling along descriptor, if I were to translate that into some sort of like objective meaning, it would be sort of the stable, continuous sort of plotting management of a short term, relatively predictable, slow growth, mature business. And so if I envision a firm muddling along, it's this quarter looks the same as last quarter. This year looks the same as last year. We're not changing the company much, maybe, you know, battling commoditization trends incrementally and just trying to nip and tuck to sustain the business and maybe, you know, returning some money to shareholders incrementally. Worse things can happen, but that also kind of seems like there's more to be gained and something you'd like to try to push for more with. And maybe just by way of anecdote, one of my sister's high school friends was working at a very large consumer electronics company. And this is about 20 years ago and was talking about a big project they were working on for an electronic connected watch. And you'd have to charge it every day. And I heard about this at some point, you know, after maybe soon after a market introduction, I thought it was kind of stupid. Like my watch, I don't have to charge it ever. I just wear it. It works. It tells my time. I don't I don't need that. And fast-forward, you know, now 15, 20 years later, it's an indispensable part of my wardrobe and my health care practice. That's how I see my behavior and how it aligns with those sorts of balancing behaviors that I talked about earlier. And so, you know, to contrast with muddling along, there's this practice of deliberately investing in opportunities that are unseen and having the conviction to work on those for sometimes years before having the fruits showing up in the financial system. And so this idea of like longer term management with a short term operational discipline is is is very important. And it's easy to risk too much focus on the shorter term activities and counting the cobs of corn or the bushels of wheat. And how many of those did you get and having that be the focus versus prospecting for the most effective fields?

Chris: Right. I guess. And you know, maybe one of the most important, maybe not the only one, but one of the most important disciplines in there in that is to have actually proper foresight. You know, be it corporate foresight, strategic foresight, but not making it too complex. I mean, of course, there are disciplines out there that suggest you do, I don't know, scenario analysis and then project things into the future 20, 30, 50 years or whatsoever. That's you can do that. But it's getting kind of complex. But at least some sort of, you know, continuous foresight capabilities actually is fundamental to maybe you know, steer some of the work and some of the things you invest in in the portfolio. And specifically now with the coming end of the pandemic in 2023, hopefully, we can observe, of course, a fundamental shift in how companies operate, how consumers behave, and most likely the opportunities that we have in the future. And most likely the opportunities now are quite different than they were back in, let's say, 2016, 17, 18, or even 19. And you mentioned opportunities before. What do you see some of the opportunities arising right now that are still early? And how could you potentially go after them to actually fuel company growth?

Cordell: Sure. Well, it's a complex question. Relative to 3M, you mentioned about the diversity and scale of our business. And so there's no sort of one to pick out, but maybe some themes. And some of these are not even new, but maybe they're new angles that we and others will want to take on those. So sustainability is absolutely a headliner. And what that means has evolved. It's gone from maybe we've incorporated 10% recycled content into this plastic widget that we're selling, right? And that's nice. It's not a bad thing to do. But is that going to move the market? No. So if you fundamentally take out process steps that are waste-generative or help your customers to be better in terms of their environmental footprint one way or another, if you find ways to reduce the risk from a safety perspective in a manufacturing process, all of those have some sustainability elements, as our customers would appreciate. And really that customer-centric sustainability view is, I think, an opportunity for firms going forward, since it's such an important need for industry. Beyond that, personalization is important. The ability to design manufacturing and supply chain configurations that allow for endpoint and user customization in an enhanced way is great. And we see some large companies having real success with that, whether from a delivery perspective or actually product design. You go online and design your consumer good with features that are personalized to you. That's difficult, then, to go and produce and deliver profitably with legacy, make large volume, single design supply chains. So automation, whether digital or actual process to reduce the labor intensity and to allow for higher throughput, less variability and productivity. And then health care outcomes, including social determinants of health and preventative care, as well as in combining digitization and digital transformation with health solutions, whether to help make it easier for practitioners to interact with patients more effectively and spend less time on the back office documentation or in enhancing patient outcomes with technology.

Chris: And we see lots of examples of that as well. And I think this is, of course, you know, most likely making tremendous impact on the portfolio composition you have in terms of R&D investments, innovation investments and the like. And I would like to go deeper on that. But before we do that, I actually wanted to play a quick game, really fast, really short on point. The game is called "Either-Or". It's really simple. So this is how it works. I want to give you two options, option A, option B. You choose one and then spend maybe one or two sentences each to briefly explain your choice. Let's see where we go.
Number one: Your personal advice to any organization that is actually just about to start to build a more structured approach to R&D innovations, innovation. Believe it or not, these companies exist. So would you say, you know, let them either focus on prioritizing the portfolio, the R&D portfolio towards more disruptive products first to really make an impact or on rather improving existing products and services first?

Cordell: I'm just based on the question as you asked it, right? I would say B. And if you don't have a strong base, you can't sustain funds to go and be disruptive. So make sure you have a nice, strong, robust business.

Chris: Yeah, very good. That's a very good answer. Actually, most would probably choose disruptive, but maybe at that point in time, the risk is too high. So I totally agree. Number two: Would you rather focus on developing artificial intelligence for automation or for augmenting human capabilities if you had to choose one?

Cordell: If I had to choose one, I would choose... that's tough, but I would augment human capabilities because there are many things that we're just not at a point yet to fully automate. And by committing wholly to automation, if I have to choose one or the other, I take out the critically valuable human element. We haven't found a way to completely replace that yet.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's great. Okay. And now number three: Toughest question. Would you rather to be able to speak any language fluently or able to play any musical instrument?

Cordell: Oh, any language. That's easy. That's not even tough. Hands down. So I love music, but if you can imagine the barriers that you completely eradicate by being able to communicate broadly across all populations, that's a yeah. Sign me up. Let me take that pill.

Chris: Amazing. Yeah, I totally agree, by the way.

Achieving a balanced and aligned portfolio

Chris: Okay. Let's go back. Let's go back to R&D and leadership. If you take one step back to that leadership in R&D and also innovation, R&D operations, you know, as I mentioned before, setting bold aspirations and making, you know, tough resource and also portfolio allocation decisions is, I mean, imperative, right? So when not done properly, as you said before, what tends to happen is that companies maybe tend to deprioritize new product ambitions because if the goals are not ambitious enough, they could reach them simply by, you know, incremental improvements or return from, you know, capital efficiency or stuff. So but then over the years, the tendency is high to actually end up with a highly commoditized portfolio. So is there a good way how to, you know, organizations can actually achieve the right balance?

"Managing your portfolio to return capital in excess of what can be obtained elsewhere."

Cordell: That's a good question. And, you know, lots of books written on this topic as well. And, you know, thinking about Adrian Slavosky and how to grow and markets don't or the innovators' dilemma. We had a chance to, as a leadership team to hear from John Moeller, the CEO of Procter & Gamble, and as they were going through some of their transformative developments in recent years, you know, one of the things that was shared was that top line growth without bottom line benefit is a waste of time. But bottom line growth without top line is just a matter of time. And the implication is just as you say, if you're delivering growth and capturing market, but you're not returning value to shareholders, there's no reason for them to fund that. And unless you're running a nonprofit, which we're not, then there's no benefit. And if it ends, it's capital destructive. We'll talk a lot about that in just a moment. But the other piece, the profitability and, as you mentioned in your question, you give competitors time to catch up. And then you start battling on price, and you can't run on that treadmill fast enough. And so you end up eroding your portfolio. So it's not easy, but then the solution is to focus on projects that according to the best information you have, deliver an accretive return on capital. And that will include a need fundamentally to drive both top and bottom line in balance. And so that's the third metric to really make sure is in view is the long term implications of today's short term decisions. And that's most logically captured. And it's the way that investors who are very powerful in thinking about capital allocation from a markets' perspective, tend to view firms as they decide where to invest.

Chris: So what does a well-balanced portfolio actually then look like? I mean, there are different things out there. You know, the 70, 20, 10, Horizon one, two, three discussions. And sure, it's numbers. You can, of course, stick to that. But it sounds to me that this is too simple of a rule. Right? So how could potentially a good or a well-balanced portfolio then actually look like?

Cordell: Sure. So it's a great question. And it's, and I'm going to be right. It's easy to be too dogmatic about, hey, this is the best way to do it. Right. And, you know, there are many perspectives on this, but I'll offer one. So if you're thinking about what investors will value, it's a return on their capital. So if you're driving, if you're making decisions that over time return, capital in excess of what they can get elsewhere, then you're an attractive investment. And so managing your portfolio so that it does that is sort of a fundamental opportunity. And that's different from talking about what the top line sales potential is from a basket of new products or what the cost reduction opportunities are tied to a bunch of initiatives that are really focused on, you know, optimization of what you already have. Some of both of those are relevant, but to tie the two and make sure that you're balanced, you really want to be thinking about what the, as best as you know, the net present value is of that portfolio of programs. And so if you, if you have a portfolio of programs that based on what you expect and see is positive, then that goes a long way. And I think one will find that it drives towards a balance of some that are going to realize cash flow in the near term. And some that are going to realize cash flow over horizon two and three, you can go further and then query that list of programs and try to see, right? Is everything that we're saying is worth doing, you know, just short term cost out, or are we too far out and pie in the sky and everything that we're doing is going to deliver value 10 years from now, but we have to make payroll next quarter. So having that second lens and just looking at, you know, like you mentioned, there's a 70, 10, 20 rule or, or everyone would look at it. Those are maybe subordinate parameters to include, but I would encourage everyone to include and really go beyond this sort of institutional anxiety that I believe many firms tend to have around thinking about net present value. And I mean, in oil and gas it is very common to value projects that way. But as you think about many other organizations, it's seen as a little subjective, too complicated, people don't understand it, but it's absolutely the way the capital flows.

Chris: And same with, you know, setting the ambition, also aspirations. As you said, I'm prioritizing and probably also choosing the those innovation opportunities, those R&D opportunities, the right one is of course a task that must be performed by, you know, senior leaders, top management, C level whatsoever. Can you talk about how the decision-making process for that actually looks like in your organization?

Cordell: Sure. Well, yeah, at 3M, it's not so cut and dried as top down, although that certainly does have a place. You know, looking at our 100 plus year history, as you mentioned, you know, we were founded nearly 120 plus years ago. Many of our successes were actually born of sort of grassroots, almost serendipitous innovation and people at an individual level having an idea, advocating for it. And sometimes going against management direction to a point to push things to the point of viability and championing. And so some of our great businesses have that legacy and history. And so, you know, 3M, we've recognized that and put a high premium on the individual initiative and trying to put systems in place and technical forums and collaborative structure and encouragement mechanisms recognition over time. And so we've really tried to balance both of those awards to really facilitate that sort of behavior. And at the same time, to your point, at some place along this innovation practice for individuals, they're going to need capital. And in order to allocate capital, you have to have a framework and a strategy. And it does rest on senior executives to provide that. But we try to balance both.

Chris: I was just thinking the same, you know, probably the 3M posted innovation story is maybe one of the most, you know, most of your stories to explain serendipity in universities and wherever you go. So that's for sure. For sure. If you say grassroots, yeah, that's nice. But then how would you ensure that it's not all grassroots for sure. But if you know if that happens, how do you ensure that the portfolio then is actually linked to strategy and that resources are getting allocated in a way that it supports the overall goal of a company. So you have, you know, grassroots here, strategy there. Where's the link?

Cordell: Sure. So it's, and it's not perfectly clean to be candid. And there are things that there are inefficiencies that we try to always work through. But one is transparency about the strategy. So for example, I can know upfront that if I were to come up with a new manufacturing process for making paper towels and go and try to champion that I'm wasting my time. That's not our business, right? We can know things that we do and don't do. We don't manufacture semiconductors. So if I were to come to my manager and say, "Hey, I think there's a better manufacturing process for making semiconductors is hugely capital intensive. And there are others who are very well established". So as an innovator, it makes sense to try to align to previously communicate a strategic direction. So that's one of the things that you get some parameters around where it makes sense to try to be creative. So that's that's one. There are top down prioritized programs as well as platforms. So I think the idea of platforms is important at 3M. Automotive electrification, for example, is a platform for us. And you could be thinking about powertrain or display or thermal management. And so that gives everybody a space where if you're going to come forward with an idea that hasn't been put on the roadmap, at least you know, there's a general interest where it's connected to the customers in the channel, and we have a manufacturing investment outlook, biopharma, you know, and purification, wound care, health care, you know, so we know spaces. And so that is one of the areas for senior leaders to help to be clear about prioritized markets and platforms that are getting investment. And then we can try to align to that as creatives.

Chris: And thinking about those platforms and also those opportunities, can you maybe also talk about some of the most pressing, you know, challenges, opportunities you're facing, maybe even any, you know, horizon to horizon three topics that the organization is particularly focused on right now?

Corell: Sure. Well, for one, one I just mentioned automotive electrification is very relevant. It takes it's a great business. It's aligned to significant trends in the market. And there are many different areas of automotive electrification that are relevant and dependent potentially on 3M proprietary technology. So that's certainly one, you know, thinking maybe even further out horizon two and three, you know, without being too specific, you know, climate change solutions and thinking about new and fundamentally different ways to reduce the emissive activity tied to industrial process. It could be energy generation, transport, automation. We've talked about there are consumables that come along with that. And so as the world becomes more automated and in manufacturing, you know, there are opportunities for us to help with systems provision that allow for the automotive equipment and the consumables to be paired in unique ways. And that creates a nice technology stack that can be beneficial and provided from 3M. So those are just a few of the examples.

3 key principles for successful portfolio management

Chris: That sounds like a tremendous opportunity. And Cordell, time flies by, and we have so many more questions, but we're getting close to closing this episode with you. But before I have two more questions for you. Number one is if we were to summarize something and, you know, provide some key actionable recommendations for the listeners of this episode, what would be your top three recommendations to take away?

"If you're going to put capital against something, then you should have a view on how you're returning it and when."

Cordell: Sure. Well, building on your either or, I think maybe starting with the mirror, are you the proverbial, am I and the organization I'm responsible for at whatever level? Am I consistently delivering on my commitments today on time and in full for customers? If I'm not, I need to start there, right? Credibility is hugely important in innovative practice, because as you think about a portfolio, in order to assess that well, you have to be able to forecast. And if you're not in the business of delivering on forecast, then your innovative roadmap is not going to turn out to be too valuable. Second, I would encourage if you're not in the habit of doing this, if you're involved in operations at all, include a longer term, whatever that means, whether it's 10 quarters or 10 years, a longer term rolling view of your shorter term decision-making, right? So try to deliberately get yourself and your peers and your leadership sphere, whatever that is, to really connect long term impacts to the shorter term decisions in a documented, quantitative way. And then lastly, just have a candid look at that portfolio of activities. And again, at whatever level, if it's in your work group for your business unit, or if you're a senior leader, and you're thinking about your entire firm, is your aggregate portfolio one that is forecast to have a positive net present value, right? That's the ultimate barometer of whether you're creating or destroying capital with all of your work. Yeah, yeah, true. So those would be three things that I would try to focus on. How do you do this personally? How do you document this personally? Yeah, so there are lots of, I mean, it's, and I don't want to try to make it sound like a thesis project, right? But because it shouldn't be. Once it gets too complicated, then it's hard to get buy in and practice. I think there are, it's, you can figure out a template that works for you and your team. And I think the simpler, the better. But at a minimum, if you're going to put people in capital and supplies against a project, then you should have a view, because that's money that could be put to a dividend or a shareholder purchase. Right. So if you're going to put that capital against something, then you should have a view on how you're returning it and when.

Chris: Got it. And then finally, if you look back on your professional career at 3M, what was your greatest, we call it Innovation Rockstar moment so far?

Cordell: Fair question. Yeah, I've been blessed to work with amazing team members all around the world and to touch programs as a manager that have impacted many millions of lives. Just to think about one, for example, in the pandemic, 3M provided billions of respirators. And so you think about the scale of life impact with just that. So as a manager, when working with many teams through a career, I feel a little awkward in pulling out one of their contributions and highlighting it as my innovation rock star moment, because I'm hopefully facilitating, connecting, influencing, but they're doing some great work. And so I've been very fortunate in that regard to work with great people. Personally, then, just from a personal creative perspective, where I want to maybe take some ownership and celebrate, it was actually my very first commercialization program where I was in the consumer business and I had a chance to actually propose and do that exact thing. We talked about this sort of grassroots connection and work with a marketer, define claims, go back and forth to Mexico, scaling up a new process, file and help to prosecute a patent with our IP attorneys. The whole range of commercialization leadership at a very early stage in my career, rewarding, but also learned a ton. And I've had a chance to replicate some of that through the other experiences later on in my career. So that was definitely a rockstar moment for me.

Chris: Yeah, it sounds like a great rockstar moment and very rewarding. Absolutely. Congratulations to that. That's really awesome. Now that's it for this episode. Cordell, thanks so much again for being my guest on this episode. I think it was a pleasure to draw from your experience, to pick your brain on this kind of complex topic. So thanks for being my guest. I really enjoyed the conversation with you.

Cordell: I've really enjoyed being here too. It's an honor to be invited. And so thank you and to you and the team for having me.

Chris: All right, and to everybody listening or watching if you enjoyed this episode, then simply leave us a comment on this episode or just you know, drop us an email at That's it. Thanks for listening. Take care everybody, and bye-bye. 

About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Cordell Hardy is Senior Vice President, Corporate R&D Operations at 3M.

The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!



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