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Mike Bahma, a 'manufacturing expert,' takes over 3M-Cottage Grove

Mike Bahma is back close to home in a job he prepared for over the past 19 years.

A chemical engineer by schooling and a manufacturing manager by experience, Bahma has taken over as the new site director of 3M-Cottage Grove. Bahma replaces Vickie Batroot, who is retiring. He will manage one of 3M’s largest facilities in the world at a time when company officials say further growth is expected at the site.

“My ultimate goal was to be a plant manager,” Bahma said in a recent interview. “I enjoy the people side of (manufacturing) more than the engineering side of it.”

Bahma’s professional interest changed over time but the Minnesota native said he always wanted to work for 3M. That was in part because his father was a 3M engineer. Their family moved from Hutchinson to Stillwater to New Ulm and back to Stillwater before Bahma graduated in 1990. With a knack for math and science, Bahma went to the University of Minnesota for chemical engineering.

Bahma made seven moves within 3M over 19 years. Stints of two to three years are common within 3M, and that fit with Bahma’s personal work philosophy. He likes to go into a position, assess the production or process and improve it.

“My philosophy has always been after two or three years all the big ideas I’ve had for change are done,” he said.

Bahma’s first 3M job out of school was as a systems technician in maintenance at a Buffalo, N.Y., facility. It was a brief stay as he moved on after eight months to be a process engineer in Little Rock, Ark. While there he met his wife and they had two girls. For two years in Little Rock he was supervisor at a mining operation in 3M’s industrial minerals division. The company mined material that was coated with a ceramic and sold to asphalt shingle manufacturers.

From Little Rock he moved to a Wausau, Wis., facility within the industrial minerals division. He split time between mining facilities in Wausau and suburban Los Angeles, before making a big move.

In 2004 3M bought the Swedish firm Hornell International, which manufactured auto-darkening safety shields used by welders. A year later Bahma was named the first American plant manager of the newly acquired 3M facility located about three hours north of Stockholm. His wife and children moved with him. His daughters, then 4 and 7, went to public school, and the family got immersed in the community. Unlike other company facilities around the world, there was not a group of U.S.-based 3M employees at the Swedish plant. That was more enriching because the family was assimilated into the local community.

“It was a very positive experience,” said Bahma, who learned “passable Swedish” during his time there.

Bahma returned from Sweden to work at company headquarters in Maplewood for two years before moving again to manage a plant in Omaha, Neb., where 3M manufactures personal safety products such as respirators and eye protection. It was a plant of 550 employees.

Continuity sought

Bahma said he is prepared for a longer tenure in Cottage Grove. He said 3M likes to establish longer continuity at its Cottage Grove facility due to the plant size, proximity to headquarters, array of production activity and history.

“One of the good things is I can be here for a while,” Bahma said. “I think 3M recognizes the importance of 3M-Cottage Grove being a respected member of the community.”

Bahma started in Cottage Grove Feb. 1 and for his first month worked side by side with Batroot, who steps down April 1. Batroot said Bahma is a great choice to lead the facility. She called him a “manufacturing expert.”

“He’s just made constant moves with more and more responsibility,” she said.

Bahma said this was his best start in a new position because of Batroot’s willingness to help him get started.

Visibility is important, Bahma said, and he plans to find ways to get involved in the south Washington County community. He is joining the Youth Service Bureau board and has been getting introduced to other local organizations and groups.

Bahma said he anticipates 3M will continue reaching out to the community and inviting area residents in for organized tours of the plant.

“I am a member of the community, so I want to make sure the things we do on site are well understood by the community,” he said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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