When people think about 3M, the 115-year-old maker of Scotch Tape, they might not associate the old-line consumer goods manufacturer with electric cars.
But that's not how 3M Chairman and CEO Inge Thulin sees it, he said in an exclusive interview on "Mad Money" with CNBC's Jim Cramer.
For Thulin and 3M, an old-line manufacturer serving a host of different industries including health care and transportation, auto electrification is just another market.
The CEO detailed three elements of 3M that put his massive multinational squarely at the center of the electric car trend: its longtime involvement in the automotive, electronic and energy, and traffic safety industries.
"If you take those three elements together, that is where the future is going," Thulin told Cramer. "We can capitalize on what we know in traffic safety, which is a very strong position for us not only in vertical signage, but in license plates and also pavement marking. That is where you need to regulate things going forward."
Thulin also emphasized the "incredible competitive position" the company has in the electronic market and its yearslong leadership in the automotive space.
"As I look upon the future, that's a market that will explode for 3M," the CEO said of electric cars. "That's around $6 billion addressable market with a growth rate of 8 to 10 percent ... and we are now growing that business around 15 to 20 percent if you combine the three elements."
As a company, 3M focuses heavily on research and development. About 30 percent of its sales coming from products that didn't exist five years ago, Thulin said.
The manufacturer also employs roughly 8,100 scientists to help it develop new products and build its brand equity around the world — one of the four main pillars of 3M.
"The fundamental strings of 3M [are] technology platforms, manufacturing capabilities, geographic reach and brand equity," Thulin told Cramer.
To keep those strings intact, Thulin said that he's had to make some difficult decisions over the year regarding 3M's many lines of business.
"I found that many businesses inside of 3M did not meet those criteria, and in fact, they were underperforming versus 3M's average," the CEO said. "Our expectation is very high. The businesses that could not meet at least three of those four elements, we figure ... they will be better off with a different owner. They were often smaller, the margin was lower, they were not growing as fast and we couldn't create value. So we said, that's not a personal issue, it's a business issue. They can go somewhere else."
At the same time, 3M sought out businesses that stayed true to its four pillars and proved that they could create value, Thulin said.
"That's also why we have bought some sizeable businesses. And you're right, they are bigger, they are performing better, they are more profitable and the relevance for us in the market is very, very significant," he told Cramer.
"And still, I can tell you, Jim, one thing: 3M's best days are still ahead of us."