This is a must for read for any investor who is willing to take a bet on Xerox's ability to integrate ACS and Ursula's ability to replicate what Gerstner did for IBM with global services. In my opinion, she is taking on the single biggest issue with Xerox - a culture that is too nice, too complacent, too ot-of-touch with the market and of course too bureacratic. Having spent so many years with the firm, I had the pleasure to work with some of the most brilliant leaders and mentors in business. However, almost all of them either eventually left or forced out because they had tried to do in their own worlds exactly what Ursula is attempting to do as the new chief. This is an extreme and painful challenge that could take years to unfold and neither Ursula nor Wall Street would have such patience.....
Xerox’s New Chief Tries to Redefine Its Culture
NY Times 22.02.2010
HUNDREDS of Xerox sales reps have flown here from around the country for an annual pump-up-the-troops meeting. The main attraction during a marathon day is a face both familiar and new: Ursula Burns. She’s an old friend to many of them, and there are plenty of hugs to go around for the people she’s grown up with during her 30 years at the company.
But there is also a new distance, a new curiosity about what she will do, given that she is no longer just Ursula. She is Ursula M. Burns, the C.E.O. And even though she became chief executive in July, taking the baton from Anne M. Mulcahy, she has been keeping a low profile, spending months working on the details of a huge Xerox bet, the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, an outsourcing company.
So her speeches and drop-ins on breakout sessions here are a mix of state-of-the-union messages and coming-out parties. At a meeting with some high-potential managers, she’s asked about the legacy she hopes to leave at Xerox. “It’s all about growth,” she says. “It’s all about getting bigger.”
Asked what has surprised her about her new job, she mentions the flood of attention when she was promoted. Her elevation marked two milestones: the first time an African-American woman was named C.E.O. of a major American corporation, and the first time a woman succeeded another woman in the top job at a company of this size. She tells the group that she briefly enjoyed the spotlight but grew to like it significantly less.
“The accolades that I get for doing absolutely nothing are amazing — I’ve been named to every list, literally, since I became the C.E.O.,” Ms. Burns says. Apart from working on the Affiliated Computer acquisition, she asks, “What have I done? In the first 30 days, I was named to a list of the most impressive XYZ. The accolades are good for five minutes, but then it takes kind of a shine off the real story. The real story is not Ursula Burns. I just happen to be the person standing up at this point representing Xerox.”
It’s a fair point, and one that might be true at many other big corporations, where the mission is set and the C.E.O. is more of a caretaker. But the story line at Xerox has always had a little more depth and texture — the bedrock American company whose name became an everyday verb; the convulsive drama after the board’s decision to bring in an outsider to take over as C.E.O. in the late ‘90s; the five-alarm rescue by Ms. Mulcahy, another Xerox lifer, to stabilize the company and to heal the wounds in the “Xerox family.”
And so, while the Xerox story is not all about Ursula Burns, it is still a lot about her, particularly because there are few visible seams between who she is as a person, her life story and how she plans to lead Xerox. She is taking over at a time when investors are eager to see Xerox build both revenue and earnings. She wants its 130,000 employees to get over the past, take more initiative, become more fearless and be more frank and impatient with one another to ratchet up performance.
“Terminal niceness,” is how she describes an aspect of Xerox’s culture, during her all-hands speech. “We are really, really, really nice.”
Maybe the “Xerox family,” she says, should act a bit more like a real family.
“When we’re in the family, you don’t have to be as nice as when you’re outside of the family,” she says. “I want us to stay civil and kind, but we have to be frank — and the reason we can be frank is because we are all in the same family.” Nods of recognition ripple across the audience. “We know it. We know what we do,” she continues, describing meetings where some people present and others just listen. “And then the meeting ends, and we leave and go, ‘Man, that wasn’t true.’ I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you say that in the meeting?’ ”
BY all accounts, Ms. Burns, who is 51, has never been shy about speaking her mind. It’s how she wound up working alongside Xerox’s top leaders at an early age.
She studied mechanical engineering both in college and in graduate school and joined Xerox as a summer intern in 1980. Through her 20s, she worked in various roles in product development and planning.
In 1989, she was invited to a work-life discussion. Diversity initiatives came up, and somebody asked whether such initiatives lowered hiring standards. Wayland Hicks, a senior Xerox executive running the meeting, patiently explained that that was not true.
“I was stunned,” Ms. Burns recalls. “I actually told him, ‘I was surprised that you gave this assertion any credence.’ “ After the meeting, she revisited the issue with Mr. Hicks, and a few weeks later he asked her to meet with him in his office. She figured that she was about to be reprimanded or fired.
Instead, Mr. Hicks told her she had been right to be concerned but also wrong for handling it so forcefully. Then he told her he wanted to meet regularly with her. “She was enormously curious,” Mr. Hicks remembers. “She wanted to know why we were doing some things at the time, and she was always prepared in a way that I thought was very refreshing.”
He offered her a job as his executive assistant. It was January 1990, she was 31, and the offer felt like a dead-end. “Why would I ever want to do that?” she answered, assuming that the title meant secretary. The job was much more, of course. She would travel with Mr. Hicks, sit in on important meetings, help get things done. She accepted, and, Mr. Hicks remembers, they talked a lot about leadership. Mr. Hicks, a vice president overseeing marketing and customer operations, explained the need to manage people in different ways, not to intimidate them, and to make them feel comfortable by listening carefully.
As she absorbed some of these lessons, Ms. Burns continued to speak her mind inside Xerox — particularly on an occasion in mid-1991 when the stakes were unusually high. At the time, Paul A. Allaire, Xerox’s president, held monthly meetings with top managers, and Ms. Burns and other assistants were invited to sit in (but off to the side).
Ms. Burns noticed a pattern. Mr. Allaire would announce, “We have to stop hiring.” But then the company would hire 1,000 people. The next month, same thing. So she raised her hand. “I’m a little confused, Mr. Allaire,” she said. “If you keep saying, ‘No hiring,’ and we hire 1,000 people every month, who can say ‘No hiring’ and make it actually happen?”
She remembers that he stared at her with a “Why did you ask that question?” look and then the meeting moved on. Later, the phone rang. Mr. Allaire wanted to see her in his office. She figured that it was not good news. But Mr. Allaire wanted to poach her from Mr. Hicks, so she could be his executive assistant.
They, too, would talk about leadership during down time. He didn’t want to discourage her candor, but, like Mr. Hicks, he offered tips about how to be more effective — “like giving people credit for ideas that they didn’t have, but you sold to them, to give them ownership,” Mr. Allaire recalls advising her.
After working for Mr. Allaire, Ms. Burns spent much of the 1990s building a track record leading teams in areas like the fax business and office network printing . She was named vice president for global manufacturing in 1999. She no longer had to speak so loudly to be noticed within Xerox, or on the outside. Headhunters started calling.
ROUGHLY a decade ago, Xerox was in turmoil, the result of misguided strategy shifts, a bloated bureaucracy, a boardroom drama, mountains of debt, a plummeting stock, bankruptcy rumors and the Securities and Exchange Commission crawling all over the company about accounting irregularities.
Ms. Burns decided to leave in 2000.
“It was not because of more money,” she says. “It was just, ‘What’s going on here? What is this place?’ ”
Once she told her bosses, she was surprised to find out how much they valued her. Board members told her that abandoning Xerox would be like leaving a sick spouse. If she left, they said, others would take it as a sign that the company was unsalvageable.
“I think that was the first time I said, ‘Oh, maybe at some point I could actually become the C.E.O.,’ ” she said. She was named a senior vice president in 2000 and became president of two different business groups over the next two years. Ms. Mulcahy told Ms. Burns that she needed her help on the turnaround team. The pair worked closely together for almost a decade in a relationship that both women describe as a true partnership.
Ms. Burns was named president of Xerox in 2007, a signal to investors and employees that she was the heir apparent. Ms. Mulcahy started giving her more pointed leadership advice.
“On my face, you could tell everything in 30 seconds,” Ms. Burns says. “You could tell exasperation. You could tell fed-up-ness. She said, ‘You have to develop more of a poker face because people will watch you for everything.’ ”
She got other frank advice along the way — about polish, patience, perspective and the importance of building “followership” across the organization — from other mentors, including Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the power lawyer and former Xerox director, and Kenneth I. Chenault, the chief executive of American Express.
In July of last year, she was named C.E.O. She knew that she had completely misread the public reaction when her cellphone started ringing from people like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Magic Johnson. She had no idea how they had gotten her number.
“I don’t even know Magic Johnson,” she says.
She and Ms. Mulcahy agreed early on that they would be smart and gracious in the transition, with Ms. Burns putting her own stamp on the company in a way that was deferential to the work of Ms. Mulcahy, who remains chairwoman.During her tenure, Ms. Mulcahy focused on cleaning up the balance sheet, strengthening ties to customers and getting out of commodity businesses like desktop printers.
As she was putting the house in order, Xerox was moving upmarket, into more profitable services — broader contracts to handle all of a big corporate customer’s business processes, for example. That’s what led to Xerox’s bid for Affiliated Computer.
But Xerox urgently needs to build revenue (sales dropped 14 percent, to $15.2 billion, in 2009) and to perk up its stock price, which remains below $10 a share after spending a long stretch of the last decade above that mark.
That’s given Ms. Burns license to pound the table for more-better-faster.
“I was fortunate that we had an economic crisis right when I was taking over,” she says. “I’m serious. Without that, it would be significantly more touchy.”All the leadership advice she’s received through the years is now being put to the test. Some of it she has decided to ignore.
“One of the things that I was told early on is that you should never let them see you sweat,” she says. “I remember hearing that and saying: ‘Oh, my God! I think that they have to see you sweat.’ “
“I cannot be viewed as the solution to all problems in this company,” she adds.She has also punted advice that she adjust her speaking style. It was too New York, people told her — too fast, too informal. Instead, she makes sure that her speeches sound like her and avoid the use of $10 words — like, she says, “bespoke.”
“What I realized was I have to know my content and know what I want to say, and be significantly less concerned about how I say it,” she says. “I can’t try to say it in somebody else’s voice. I have to say it in my voice.”
In her biggest speech of the day to the sales reps in Orlando, she talks about “fearlessness.” “That doesn’t mean recklessness,” she says. “This is something I live by all the time and one of the things I want to change.”
“Decide,” she implores the group. “Do things.” She is adjusting to life as C.E.O. She used to roll up her sleeves with colleagues to puzzle through messy problems. Now people come to her with solutions.
“People actually believe that before they come to you that they have to have perfection,” she notes. “I get the neatest presentations in the world.”
Ms. Burns is now building her team. She sets a clear hurdle for anyone Xerox is considering from the outside. By the time candidates get to her, their skills have been thoroughly vetted. But she asks this main question: “What is it that you see in this company that you love — that you can love — you can grow to love?”
And if you ask her for a new assignment, a promotion into a new role, you’re likely to hear the speech she first heard long ago from Mr. Hicks about “getting to zero” with a job.
To explain, she picks up a piece of paper and draws a line across it. She shades an area below the left end of the line.“When you start the job, whatever it is, you have to find out who the secretary is, where the bathrooms are, who your teammates are,” she says. “Trust me, for a lot of time you are operating below zero.”
She then points to the middle stretch of the line.
“This is when most people want to leave a job,” she adds. “They say: ‘I’m done. I know everything. I’m done.’ But think about that. If you left there, basically all this area under the curve, which is negative, which is take-away, you owe the company all of that. Then you do this for six more months, and you can operate the place smoothly, but you haven’t really transformed it in the ways that you can help to transform it.”
She starts shading an area above the line to the right. That represents what a manager is expected to contribute — what to give back — after absorbing all of the training and experience that exists below the left side of the line. The balance amounts to “getting to zero.”
“You can only leave after you put in as much above the curve as under the curve. Unfortunately, that usually takes more than a day, and it takes a couple years,” Ms. Burns says. “People would come in to me and say: ‘You put me in this developmental assignment. I know how to run the place now. Thank you. Can I go to the next one?’ I say: ‘Well, how about all the stuff that you owe us? How about getting settled in for a little while longer and then start to transform it?’ ”
AFTER a long day in Orlando, Ms. Burns settles into her seat on the corporate jet for the two-hour flight home. Despite the long day, she’s up for more questions. What were her big influences before she joined Xerox? The answer, she says, is “150 percent my mother. My mother was pragmatic, focused and extremely, exceedingly practical, and she was the ultimate self-determining person.”
Her family (her father was never in her life) lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan — “when it was really bad, when the gangs were there and the drug addicts were there.”
Her mother made ends meet by looking after other children. She also ironed shirts for a doctor who lived down the street and cleaned his office, bartering for things like medicine and even cleaning supplies. She had many sayings — and she repeated them, often in blunt terms, over and over.
“Where you are is not who you are,” she would tell Ms. Burns and her brother and sister. “Don’t act like you’re from the gutter because you live in a place that’s really close to the gutter.”
There were clear expectations.
“She was very, very black-and-white and very clear about what responsibilities we had,” Ms. Burns recalls. “One was that we had to be good people. And the second thing is that we had to be successful. And so her words for success were, ‘You have to give’ — and she would say this all the time — ‘more than you take away from the world.’ ”
Her mother, who died before she could see her daughter rise to the top at Xerox, also insisted that her children get a college education. “You have to learn and you have to be curious,” she would say. “You have to perform at your best. You have to worry about the things you can control. Don’t become a victim.”
It was a theme that Ms. Burns herself touched on in her talks to Xerox employees earlier in the day. The lousy economy, the past dramas at Xerox — it was time to move on. She repeated one of her mother’s sayings to them: “Stuff happens to you, and then there’s stuff that you happen to.”
Grammarians might take issue with the phrasing, but the message stuck.
“Stuff that happens to you, please, let’s talk about it for five minutes, and you can cry, and let’s go through that, the healing process,” she says. “But then it’s kind of done. I can’t hear about that two years from now.”
Ms. Burns has a lot more money now than she did as a child. As president in 2008, she was paid $887,500 in salary, a $554,688 bonus and about $4 million in stock, according to an S.E.C. filing. (Her pay for 2009 is not yet public.)
Even so, she’ll still show up in line at the grocery store in Rochester, where she’s lived for roughly 25 of her 30 years with Xerox (and where the company has more than 7,000 workers). She lives there with her husband, Lloyd Bean, and teenage daughter, Melissa — her son, Malcolm, is a junior at M.I.T., studying nuclear sciences and math — when she’s not working out of Xerox headquarters in Norwalk, Conn. Neighbors at home sometimes do a double-take when they see her at the store.
“They say to me all the time, ‘You shop for yourself?’ And I say, ‘Exactly who would be shopping for me?’ ”
A housekeeper comes in just once a week, and Ms. Burns will often do the laundry herself, knowing that it sends a good message to her daughter, a high school senior. “There’s a little bit of this childhood kind of poverty — you know, pragmatism — that you never can get rid of.”
It’s close to 11 p.m., and the jet touches down in White Plains. Leaving the small corporate-jet terminal with her luggage, she walks toward a black Mercedes that is idling at the sidewalk. She walks past it — it’s waiting for someone else on another plane — and heads to her own car in a nearby parking lot. She grabs her keys, loads her bag in the back and drives herself home.