Women Worth Watching 2015

Denise R Rutherford

3M’s VP, Latin America: From STEM Star to International Business Leader

web 3M_RuthrfordNot only is Denise Rutherford a passionate advocate for women, and for women in STEM careers, but also for all employees everywhere. In addition to her substantial technical knowledge and successful business leadership, Denise has gained deep international experience and the respect of colleagues and customers alike. She focuses on delivering results, as well as elevating the skills and effectiveness of her people.

In a 3M career spanning more than a quarter of a century, Denise has contributed to the company’s success in roles ranging from research chemist to lab manager and technical director, and from vice president and general manager of 3M’s Aerospace and Aircraft Maintenance department to vice president of all Latin American operations—a position she holds today. “Moving from technical management to business management was my big jump,” says Rutherford. “I learned an incredible amount about how the company works across all functions to meet customers’ expectations and create value in our markets.”

In addition to her valuable contributions at 3M, Denise developed and continues to serve as chair of the Women Leadership Forum for Latin America.

“It might not be obvious now, but the hard work will pay off and it will be in ways that you never dreamed of.”

Denise holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Colorado State University—Fort Collins, as well as an MS in chemistry and a BS in chemistry and mathematics from Murray State University. She gives generously of her time as volunteer, board leader, and a mentor and coach to men and women alike. Her enthusiasm and positivity are contagious, and her ability to candidly and openly address issues that are often uncomfortable is widely admired.

Education: Ph.D. Chemistry, Colorado State University; M.S. Chemistry, Murray State University; B.S. Chemistry & Mathematics, Murray State University

First Job: Senior Chemist, 3M

What I’m Reading: “The Economist” – It’s my favorite weekly read to keep up on world events.

The career advice I’d give my former self: It might not be obvious now, but the hard work will pay off and it will be in ways that you never dreamed of.

Words I live by: Make a positive difference every day.

The most important quality a woman leader should have is…

…the ability to empower our teams to achieve business results, as well as to inspire our people to be curious, to create and innovate. The more people feel valued and respected, and that their work is making a difference, the more they are willing to contribute.

The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…

…start a journal to keep track of all the small things learned along the way. The big stuff is easy to remember because I either cried or celebrated. The little things might be just as important but tend to get lost in the busy-ness of the present.

Being a woman in my profession has been…

…an amazing and extremely rewarding opportunity to work with people all over the world. I’ve been able to show women especially that it’s possible to have a truly successful career and a great family. And I’ve been able to involve men in helping make 3M an even greater company for everyone. The diversity of our global workforce makes us a more successful company and a more fun place to work!

I’ve learned that failure is…

…part of the process. We are all human. The most important things to learn from failure are to do it differently next time around and to accept that others may fail too.

I maintain a healthy personal life by…

Finding time to exercise, eat good food (not comfort food), do yoga, hug my kids, have a date with my husband, and call my mother.

I knew my present career was what I wanted to do when…

I spent time on customer-focused projects to work on their challenges and saw the benefit of customer engagement first hand. Sharing our innovative spirit to help our customers is how “3M Science Applied to Life” really works!