Xerox's Mulcahy Speaks of Path to Success
“I wasn’t intending to wind up at the top,” said Anne Mulcahy, former chairwoman and chief executive officer of Xerox. “Being CEO was never my ambition.”
Mulcahy was interviewed by Eric Hirst, associate dean of the MBA program, in front of students Tuesday, March 1, as part of the VIP Distinguished Speaker Series.
Mulcahy started at Xerox as a field sales representative in 1976 and worked her way to the top by taking on increasingly responsible and senior management positions.
“Don’t be structured in the way you value your opportunities," Mulcahy advised students. "It can be extremely limiting and you will miss so much of what’s available out there.”
When Mulcahy became a manager she earned a reputation of being someone people wanted to work for. This gave her the ability to attract the best employees, which led to the best performance.
“When you become a manager, the most important thing is reputation,” said Mulcahy. “It gives you the ability to develop followership.”
Mulcahy also spoke of what she views as a big gap in today’s corporations. “As leaders, we need to work much harder on translating corporate speak into stories people can relate to and expectations they can understand,” she said.
In 2000 it appeared to the outside world that Xerox was “unraveling overnight.” The company was experiencing a near bankruptcy crisis, with millions in debt, inaccessible cash in foreign countries, and a worldwide SEC investigation.
“It’s never all of a sudden. That kind of crisis has very deep roots,” Mulcahy said.
She explained that the most important people to a business, especially during a crisis, are its customers--not investors and analysts. Mulcahy gives Xerox employees the credit for turning the company crisis around.
“At Xerox the culture is very much a team sport. It’s hard to say as CEO that you were responsible for something, because it’s an enormous engagement of the whole team.”
Mulcahy also spoke of innovation and Xerox’s current development beyond its “legacy” business.
“We are taking everything out of the paper realm and helping our customers operate in the digital world.”
She said innovation is one of the toughest things to do and often where most businesses fail, because you have to plan to start “eating away” at the less profitable business aspects early on in order to be successful.
When responding to a student question about diversity and international experiences, Mulcahy expressed what she believes is missing in today’s corporate society: “We need an executive profile that’s representative. There is no excuse for the fact that less than 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.”