Friday, May 2, 2014

Former CEO Anne Mulcahy Turning Around Xerox

Addressing a packed auditorium as part of the 2004-05 [recorded in December 2004] View from the Top speaker series, then chairwoman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation Anne Mulcahy described the strategy behind the company's return to profitability, or—as it was dubbed by Money magazine—"the great turnaround story of the post-crash era."
Mulcahy candidly admitted that she had never planned on becoming the CEO, let alone one who was expected to reverse the company's fortunes after a sustained period of underperformance. Although she had been at Xerox for 24 years when she was appointed to the role, she had spent 16 of those years in sales, and much of her remaining tenure as the head of human resources and the chief of staff for former CEO Paul Allaire.
Anne Mulcahy speaks articulately, briskly and warmly about her efforts, views and reflections at the helm of Xerox.  The following are the 10 lessons learned that she spends a good portion of her talk on:
  1. Look, before you leap. Everyone was fixing the fire, but no one was fixing the fuel leak.
  2. Communication. People go underground, when situations get ugly. She delivered The Brutal Truth, with a dose of confidence (rf. Good to Great). Here’s the problem, here’s the strategy, here’s what you do to do help. Align and scale, in order to accomplish your goals.
  3. Crisis is a powerful motivator. Crisis teaches you to do things you should’ve been doing all along. They’d been deploying Lean + Six Sigma, which offered them a process, a language, and a toolbox. It was a great partnering tool with customers and a prompt to sustain their focus and intensity.
  4. Back to basics. It was tempting to go with new ideas, but in our experience it was about doing the simple things. Put discipline back. Align people around objectives. Review operations. 
  5. Follow your instincts. They’re a data-driven and process-driven company. But instincts played an important role. In the 1990s hordes of consultants worked to organize, and organize, and organize the company, but they unraveled it all. There was no accountability, despite what looked good on paper.
  6. Corporate culture. Others said, You have to kill the culture, which made the company sluggish, dull and weak. But the culture clearly had to be adapted. They had to bring it forward, not kill it.
  7. Focus on customers. Don’t forget them. They decided to make this their number one corporate focus. Solve problems. All executives had customers to take responsibility for.
  8. The vision thing. Even while Rome was burning, people wondered what the future city would look like. It wasn’t just about a company trying to survive, but really thrive (my word). WSJ was full of dour news about Xerox, so they wrote a mock WSJ article for themselves as a way to paint a future and motivate people.
  9. Good critics. You have to work at getting sources of honest feedback. Deal with problems early.
  10. Sense of humor and perspective. We made a lot of mistakes, we laughed at ourselves, we looked forward to each day.  We were a family.
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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