A World of Experience
Frank Little, vice president and general manager of 3M's Personal Safety Division, explains how the company builds its competency in countries all over the world and interacts with safety authorities and customers as they manage issues such as disease outbreaks and disasters.
- By Jerry Laws
- Oct 01, 2013
Frank Little, vice president and general manager of 3M's Personal Safety Division, has worked for 3M for the past 11 years, managing this division since June 1, 2011. It manufactures all of 3M's PPE products, including respirators, hard hats, powered air supply devices, hearing protection, fall protection, protective apparel, and welding safety products.
Innovation is part of the company's DNA, Little explained during a recent interview. "I run a global division, and we are a very worldwide division, with presence in 100 countries around the world. Only about a quarter of our business actually is in the U.S.," he said. "One of the big challenges for us, and one of the opportunities for us, is to bring a lot of 3M material know-how and process know-how and technologies to the game."
He explained that 3M has about 40 major platforms. "One of the things that we try to do within the Personal Safety Division is to continually innovate and bring some more of those 3M technology elements to bear to make a better solution, whether it's a lighter-weight product with the use of nanoparticle inclusion in some of our glass bubble technology solutions, for example. Microfibers, too. We're trying to innovate in all of our categories.
"A lot of learning takes place in all our locations. Absolutely, it goes both ways. There's a lot of learning to be applied in our 40 years in the industry, which really started here in the United States and western Europe.
We've built a competency in each of those countries around the world. We actually have local teams that have at least marketing and sales competency, but in many cases also have manufacturing, and lab, and other things."
The division has 15-20 laboratories around the world, and 3M as a whole operates 200, he said. It shares technologies and technical centers with other divisions. "We organize into a global community. It connects all tech service people, sharing best practices, sharing latest protective practices, sharing information about the latest pandemic around the world," he said. "It's really a kind of neural network of people, if you will."
Sharing Expertise Around the World
He said division personnel around the world share protection strategies with WHO, CDC, and other equivalent public health agencies as they deal with issues such as MERS and pandemic flu. "We're plugged into a lot of the macro trends around the world," he said. "We have a lot of interactions with local ministries and standard-setting organizations to explain to them what has worked well in other parts of the world, [such as] how you do enforcement. We've had close relations with authorities in developing countries to help them raise awareness about safety hazards. The global network is actually much better since SARS: How to share information, and to really respond more quickly, and to collaborate on information, where there's a will to. There's a much better network today for sharing the information and coming together to understand the magnitude and impact than existed five years ago," Little explained.
He discussed a variety of safety challenges on the horizon, from global interconnectivity to companies reluctant to hire and cutting staffs, raising the question of how they manage safety going forward. As such companies' safety managers cope with these challenges, 3M tries to help them improve their programs and works to provide better PPE, Little said.
Little was the managing director of 3M Korea from 2008 to 2011. "We're so diverse, we operate at a global level and a country level. For me, it was a great opportunity to move from seeing a smaller global position responsibility to a larger scale, see all of 3M, and manage all of 3M within this geography sort of position," he said. "It's just a different sort of geography
.There's always a method to what we're trying to do in developing leaders for 3M. I'm just fortunate to have been able to participate in that."
Some countries choose to adopt U.S. or EU safety standards, with some adaptations, while others -- China, Brazil, and Russia are examples -- develop their own, he explained, adding that China adopted a swath of new safety standards a few years ago, and 3M offered assistance during that process. Korea has KOSHA and agencies modeled after the American ones, Little said. "It's happening much more rapidly over there: One hundred years here [but] 35 years there. It's really interesting to see, and some agencies are doing well at implementing standards."
Little said he's encouraged by the development of globally harmonized standards such as GHS. "We're happy to see any trend that's going to help improve the standards of safety for any larger population of the world," he said.