When Anne Mulcahy was named chief executive of troubled Xerox Corp. two years ago, the appointment after 27 years at the Stamford, Conn.-based copier giant wasn t exactly the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
The company had been on top of the world in 1998, but not long afterward it was in danger of disappearing, she said.
Most of us were looking ahead and not sensing what was about to happen, Ms. Mulcahy, 50, told Owens Corning employees yesterday at a diversity in the workplace forum at the Toledo firm s downtown headquarters.
Suddenly, competitors were eating Xerox s market share, the company was $15 billion in debt, and rumors were swirling that the troubled industry pioneer might go bankrupt.
There also were alleged accounting problems and charges that the company bent its numbers to fit Wall Street expectations. I think it would be fair to say ... we were out of control, Ms. Mulcahy said.
Upon being named CEO in July, 2001, one of her first moves was to seek advice from famed investor and billionaire Warren Buffett. He said to me, You weren t promoted. You were drafted into the war, she said.
But rather than be intimidated, Ms. Mulcahy - the first woman CEO at Xerox and just one of five women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies - said she knew that the company where she had spent most of her life had two things going for it: loyal customers and a committed workforce.
With those two things to aid her, along with the willingness to restructure the company, cut expenses by $1.7 billion, and trim debt by nearly $6 billion, Xerox turned around.
The company had a profit of $91 million in 2002, had $15.8 billion in sales, and pulled its stock up from less than $8 a share in July, 2001, to $10.65 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.
But the road was full of hard choices, she said. The company sold assets and shut or sold parts of Xerox that were not its core business.
She learned valuable lessons during her career, which she began at Xerox in sales, moved to human resources, and became president before ascending to CEO and chairman.
I learned you can t communicate enough with shareholders and customers, she said. Also, that a CEO cannot listen enough to top executives, all employees, and even the firm s harshest critics.
You have to foster an environment where you get good critics, those who have the courage to tell it like it is, she said. And you cannot overemphasize leadership.
Good leadership can move mountains over a period of time. Bad leadership can do great damage overnight.
But a good leader needs dedicated workers, something that Xerox has encouraged along with a commitment to worker diversity, Ms. Mulcahy said. On her management team, for example, she has African-Americans, women, a Spaniard, a Frenchman, a Cuban, and others with diverse backgrounds.
Her company expects its management at all levels to embrace diversity and enforces that credo by examining hiring, retention, and promotion records, she said.
You probably wouldn t want to stay at Xerox a long time if you don t like [diversity],” she added.