Denise Rutherford – 2019 Distinguished Honor Alumna

Denise Rutherford – 2019 Distinguished Honor Alumna


(soft instrumental music) – So it’s now my pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Denise Rutherford. She is our 2019 Distinguished Alumni, selected by the Alumni Association. Dr. Rutherford earned her bachelor’s in both chemistry and mathematics in 1980, and an MS in chemistry in 1985 from Murray State University in Kentucky. She then went on to earn
her PhD in chemistry from Colorado State University in 1989. Just after her PhD she joined the 3M team as the senior research chemist, and she has remained at 3M ever since. She served as vice
president of the company’s Aerospace business for five years, has held several international
leadership roles, including managing director of 3M Belgium, vice president of 3M Latin America, and vice president of
3M Greater China Area and managing director of 3M China. In 2017 she became managing
director of 3M Japan. They don’t really want
her in the United States, is what we’re saying. (audience laughs) And, sorry, we’re glad you’re here. 3M Japan, and the next year was named vice president of Research and Development and Commercialization in 3M’s
Industrial Business Group. She served in this role
until earlier this year, when she was appointed
senior vice president and head of corporate affairs. There is only, I was joking with her when we were walking in. There’s really only one title that she has not had for 3M, and so I’m hoping for that one. (audience laughs) That would be president, it’s comin’. Beyond her overwhelming
success in the business world, Dr. Rutherford is also
a well-known advocate for women and youth in STEM fields, and an active supporter of
3M’s Women Leadership Forum. She developed and
continues to serve as chair of the Women Leadership
Forum in Latin America, and serves on the board of directors for STARBASE in Minnesota, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring youth in STEM. Dr. Rutherford has also
been a generous donor to the College of Natural Sciences. In 2016 she and her husband established the Denise Rutherford and Maurice Kuypers Undergraduate Scholarship in Chemistry, to support first-generation
college students pursuing their undergraduate degree here at CSU in chemistry. Her unwavering dedication
to higher education, scientific discovery and
furthering women in STEM is illustrated clearly in
all aspects of her life. Her success in business and in science sends a powerful message to us all, and to our students, that they can follow
their passion for science to great heights. We are honored to have her as our 2019 Distinguished Alumna, and honored to have
her here with us today. Denise. (audience applauds) – Thank you, and thanks for that very kind introduction, Jan. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m very excited to be back here at CSU and honored to share this day with you. I’d like to start by congratulating all of the scholarship recipients, for the hard work that’s
brought you this far, and to say thank you also to all of my fellow scholarship
sponsors who are helping to make a big difference
for this rising generation of future leaders. Today is proof to all of us that hard work and
dedication really do pay off. It seems like just yesterday that I arrived here as a graduate student, ready to begin a new and exciting phase of my educational pursuit. And it was during my
four-and-a-half years here in Fort Collins that I began
to more fully understand what I hoped to accomplish
in my career and in my life. I came to CSU because one
of my chemistry professors at Murray State University
had recommended this as a place that would be good for me, a good fit for my interests. And she was right. I got a great education, as I went through the rigors of classwork, cumulative exams, seminar presentations, the oral exam, long hours of research, and then finally writing
out my dissertation. Along the way I made
tremendous friendships that have stood the test of time. While we were here we
explored a lot of the Colorado outdoors all together. I did learn to ski, which is an activity that
I still enjoy very much with my family. And then lucky for me, I
was offered a position at 3M after both on-campus and
then on-site interviews. I didn’t know much about 3M, and I do find that a lot of
people don’t, even today. My new job, I’m gonna try and change that, but that’s another story. But I did like the people, the company’s culture, and the wide variety of projects that might eventually come my way. So I decided to take the opportunity. Although, to be honest,
after all these years the Minnesota winters, they don’t really agree with me. Summers are kinda nice, but the winters are pretty hard. Anyway, I remember dreaming about a career that would challenge me and bring me joy, one that would allow me to remain curious and explore new things and ideas, one that wasn’t just
about earning a paycheck, but would allow me to grow. And with a solid CSU foundation, that education as my foundation, I’ve been fortunate to
achieve all of this and more. In my 30-year career at 3M, I’ve held a variety of positions, as Jan just shared with you. I did move to Minnesota to
start in corporate research as a senior chemist working on biodegradable plastic technology, and after a few years I
changed research project focus to work on materials
for electronic devices. Then I followed my passion about making a positive difference by
taking on team leadership and then eventually management positions for business unit laboratories. I became more and more interested in how cross-functional
teams worked together on new product development, everything from ideas to launch. And I decided to apply
some of my own energy into improving our
commercialization processes. I took on several stretch assignments, including these moves between technical and business leadership roles. One of my favorite roles
was as vice president of 3M Aerospace, where we worked together to develop new materials for airplanes. And I was able to steer
the business forward as we worked with customers to help them make aircraft that are
lighter, safer and quieter, which is a very strong need in today’s aerospace industry. And then I also loved our
international assignments. One of these was to become
the managing director of 3M Belgium. It was our first big
international move as a family, so I moved over to Belgium
with a trailing husband and two young children, one daughter, age one, and a boy who was then seven years old. Then later we moved to Asia, into Shanghai, China, and
then into Tokyo, Japan. During all of these moves
and these opportunities, we learned as a family
how to be more adaptable, more tolerant and more kind. And being the new person, the one who’s not from here, has really helped me and my family learn how important those
characteristics truly are. And it’s through these behaviors that we can get the best out of everyone in our communities and our workplaces, and that really has become
a second passion for me, in how do we enhance
diversity and inclusion. I learned about big differences in leadership style as well, between how we work in the U.S. and how the Europeans operate, and then in the more
hierarchal world of Asia, as I worked all around the world. At each location, it really
became a focus of mine to enhance diversity
and inclusion within 3M, while all at the same time delivering on the business objectives. ‘Cause that’s what it’s all about. I had partnered with my male colleagues and mentored many women on
how to improve their career, how to advance in their career, particularly for those in STEM but also in many other roles all
around the companies as I did have a unique opportunity as the first female president of 3M China and the first female president of 3M Japan to take on this high-level responsibility. 3M has a very strong focus on building these more diverse teams, so I’m very well aligned with that, and we continue to make progress. I’ve personally been a
sponsor, as Jan said, for the Women’s Leadership Network in various areas around the world, as well as an ally and a sponsor for Team Africa and our GLBTQ+ community. This work does take
partnership and persistence. It also requires understanding of local social norms and
cultural expectations. I can say that at 3M
in these last 30 years we’ve made a lot of progress, and there’s still progress to be made, so more work to do. These various assignments
that were offered to me, usually through an unexpected phone call from one of our executive vice presidents. “Denise, I got a great job for you.” Usually they were always a surprise, but they did provide new challenges and opportunities for growth. And in those moments, I wasn’t convinced that I was the right person for the job. But I really benefited by
having mentors and sponsors who believed in me and encouraged me to accept these stretch assignments. And now after another one of
those surprise phone calls, “Denise, I got a great job for you,” I’m now leading the company’s Corporate Affairs organization, which is an enterprise-wide
responsibility, and I report directly to our CEO. Now I can tell you honestly, this is not something I
ever anticipated having, as I graduated with a PhD in chemistry from Colorado State University. Another great stretch opportunity. The reason I’m sharing
these stories with you today is because I think one of
the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way is, and this is one that I
share with my mentees and other people I meet with even just casually once or twice, is that you don’t have to
have it all figured out when you leave here. You really don’t. Having enough of the building blocks, like a great education. Having a willingness to be interested and to try new things, and then being sorta
directionally correct. “Is that something I think I might like to wake up and do every day,” is really the only thing you need. And if I had stuck to my first aspiration in leaving here to go to 3M
to be a corporate scientist, that was my dream, or as a research fellow is what many other companies call it, it would have been a
very different career. I think it still would
have been a great time, and a lot of fun, but it would have been
very very different. And I might have missed the opportunities which have allowed me to realize my passion for making
a positive difference through helping and leading
and developing others, particularly women in STEM and the advancement of minorities. So I’m here to tell you
I haven’t looked back, although I do have to still make time to go around the labs and
do what I call walk-abouts to learn about some of
the research projects we have on board, ’cause they’re still fascinating to me and I still have a true passion for those kinds of technical elements. So it is true that it’s possible to have the best of both
worlds and to love what you do. One of the reasons I wanted to give back to Colorado State is, by starting our scholarship
a couple years ago, is, particularly for
first-generation females in science, such as myself, is that I truly believe
that a great education, particularly in STEM, is a wonderful start to any career. It affords new skills and an expanded understanding of self that allows us to go out and solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And as Jan said earlier, there are some big problems out there. The world has a lot of these problems that are gonna take strong
scientific understanding, and an unprecedented degree
of collaboration to solve, like the sustainability goals. I was just at the United Nation General Assembly last week, and some of those goals are
things like gender equity, safe and reliable food, water scarcity. There are many many challenges that we’re working on to help solve these big world challenges, and I’m very happy that I found a company that is working in those same areas. We have products that are addressing those challenges and more. We like to say at 3M that you’re never more than 10 feet away from a 3M product. You just don’t know it, unless it’s a consumer product, okay? And one of the ways you can confirm that is if you have a mobile device, it is quite likely that there’s at least two or three 3M products in there. But again, you just don’t it. So we work hard, we use our science to enable many of life’s
modern conveniences. We have 51 technologies, operations in 69 countries. We have sales in 200 countries. We have 65,000 products
and 91,000 employees. I’m certainly never been bored, and I do appreciate the
opportunities I’ve had to grow my skills and
contribute to the company in many many ways. Each role I had prepared me for the next, and I’m happy to say that
I always feel passion about what I’m doing and where I’m going. While I strayed from
chemistry over the years, I didn’t lose the valuable skills I gained while attending CSU. As a leader, I have the opportunity and the responsibility to
make a positive difference in someone’s life, like others have done for me. To give back, lift up and encourage others to aim high and to achieve their dreams. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities that I had as a student, and for those who have
invested in my future. I couldn’t be happier to give back to the institution who gave me so much. So students, your ambitions
and determinations will take you far, and I couldn’t be more excited for you and all that you’ll accomplish. I hope that you too will have these same kinds of opportunities. So thank you very much for the chance to talk to you this afternoon, and for the honor of this award. Thank you very much. (audience applauds)
(soft instrumental music)

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