Friday, January 02, 2009

Women chief executives, Xerox

I agree with the following post from Financial Times.  When Anne took the CEO post at my old firm Xerox, they were suffering from two failed transitions - CEO and Digital.  The first one failed because at the time, the Board thought only an outdsider could shake up the company and successfully manage the digital transition from analogue copying.  They picked Rick Thoman, a long term protege of Lou Gerstner and ex-CFO of IBM, to do the job.  Xerox for the second time in its history was under attack from "distribute-and-print" phenomenon driven by the Internet and of course Hewlett-Packard.  Visionary Thoman tried to change too much too quickly within an inherently stodgy and resistant culture to catch up with the irreversible trend in the marketplace.  The result was a massive chaos that had brought Xerox near bankruptcy. Anne was absolutely the right internal talent to succeed Thoman.  Having worked with her, I can say that she is by far the most personable business leader I have ever met. Knowing well the culture she grew up with, she did an outstanding job of turning the company around by putting Lean Six Sigma at the epicenter of her transformative change agenda.  According to rumors on the street, she may be nearing retirement this year as she wants to spend more time with her family.  The question is who is left on the management bench to take the company to the next level as many talented top executives have recently "retired" or departed the firm.  This crucial transition may be one of the key events to watch in 2009...after all Xerox is known to have suffered a  great deal from transitions...

Here's the FT article:

"If 2008 was a rough year for American companies overall, it was even tougher for the handful of large firms run by women. Only 13 of the Fortune 500 had female chief executives in 2007 and, as of mid-December, their share prices had slumped by half versus 40 per cent for the broader US market. Particularly troubled were two of the highest profile women executives, Meg Whitman of Ebay and Patricia Russo ofAlcatel-Lucent, who left their companies after strategic missteps. Other female chief executives have done better, but few have gained the status of transformative leaders with long tenures. A happy exception has been Anne Mulcahy of Xerox. Though the company has faced a tough economic environment recently, she is credited with turning it round in her eight-year tenure. It is an impressive achievement given Xerox’s once stodgy reputation.

The year marked a series of happy and less happy anniversaries for the US copier and documents company. Xerography was invented by Chester Carlson 70 years ago, launching a technology so revolutionary that photocopiers based on his discovery were held under lock and key half a century later in the eastern bloc. Licensing by the company that became Xerox 50 years ago set the stage for it to become the best-performing American stock of the 1960s. Since then it has given up much of its market to Asian competitors and its stock is back to where it was 30 years ago.

The most aggravating aspect of Xerox’s story is not that it gave up its dominant position in photocopying but that it wasted many other golden opportunities, having developed the computer mouse and laser printer without reaping benefit. Today, though, Xerox is thriving in a supposedly paperless world through innovation and superior management. It is a testament to Ms Mulcahy that a company that squandered so much intellectual property before her tenure is prospering in a more challenging business landscape."

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