Jay Ihlenfeld oversees some of the most creative and prolific professionals on the planet. As senior vice president of research and development for 3M Company, he leads a global organization of nearly 7,000 technical employees in maintaining a dynamic research and development effort. 3M places a strong emphasis on technology and is known for “Leading Through Innovation.” Ihlenfeld’s technical and managerial background, together with a breadth of experience within the company, made him the natural choice for 3M’s chief research and development officer, but perhaps more important to his success have been lifelong interests in teamwork, problem solving and exploring culture.
“I lived oversees early in my career, which immersed me in other cultures. I found that understanding language isn’t as important as understanding cultures,” he says.
A native of Manitowoc, WI, Ihlenfeld had considered UW-Madison for his undergraduate degree, but on a visit to campus Professor R. Byron Bird advised him to study elsewhere if he wanted to attend graduate school at Wisconsin.
He studied at Purdue (Ihlenfeld is a 2001 Purdue University Distinguished Engineering Alumnus) and focused on the chemistry of biological and medical sciences. He earned his BS in 1974, married Manitowoc native Cynthia Ames and in the fall, entered UW’s chemical engineering doctorate program under the guidance of Professor Stuart Cooper.
While working on his thesis, Ihlenfeld and Cooper consulted for several companies including 3M. The work further fueled his interest in problem solving and gave him an understanding of the culture of his future employer.
Ihlenfeld earned his PhD from UW-Madison in 1978 and started working in 3M’s product development laboratories. He has worked as a research specialist and manager in numerous 3M divisions. Recently, he served as executive vice president for Sumimoto 3M in Japan, 3M’s largest subsidiary with more than 3,000 employees and sales approaching $2 billion.
In October of 2002, 3M asked Ihlenfeld to return to St. Paul to be vice president of research and development. He was part of the team that reorganized 3M’s entire business around its key markets. The change helped the company achieve double-digit growth and generate a full pipeline of new ideas and opportunities.
Ihlenfeld and his wife live in Mahtomedi, MN. In his free time, he enjoys golf, music, opera and serves on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra.