When it comes to talking about incredible leadership, one cannot go without mentioning Anne Mulcahy. She is the former chairperson and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Xerox and was named CEO of the year in 2008 by Chief Executive Magazine. Mulcahy was also named one of America’s best leaders by US News and World Report. Forbes magazine acknowledged Anne as one of the world’s most influential women both in 2005 and 2009.
anne was not groomed to run a company
In fact, many of her years working there were in sales and upper management. Even Mulcahy herself claims she was surprised when she was elected to CEO of Xerox in 2001. At the time of her appointment, the company was facing possible bankruptcy. Shareholders ditched their shares which made the stock price drive down 26 percent.
Although, she had been working 20 years at the company in the sales and upper management department, when Anne became CEO, she admittedly acknowledged her lack of financial expertise. Even though corporate finance was not her core competency, she rejected the advice from executive advisers to declare bankruptcy. She believed that claiming “bankruptcy is never a win.”
Anne considered, if she used bankruptcy as a tool to escape from debt that could make it harder for Xerox to be considered a serious high-tech player in the future. Instead she chose to restore Xerox and to make it a great company once again. To achieve this she sought the industry experts and met with the top 100 executives to let them know what she was thinking about doing. Of them, 98 executives decided to support her.
After great communication, planning and effort, she managed to save the company and pay off its entire debt. She also succeeded to rebuild its product line, technology base and even built a new management team. She not only saved the company, but she completely transformed it.
Anne committed herself to saving a company from bankruptcy and succeeding. She proved herself she could be an effective force in the business world and she demonstrated amazing leadership qualities studied and utilized by many CEOs and future leaders today. We could all learn from a few of those indispensable traits:
anne mulcahy: indispensible traits
She took a great gamble when she shifted from expensive consumer printers to the new technology of high-end color digital printers. She did this because she became aware that the world was changing, so she knew that Xerox had to get ahead of the shift. “Companies disappear because they can’t reinvent themselves,” she said.
In this turbulent economy it’s really hard to find a loyal employee and even harder to find a dedicated leader. Anne was working for 25 years in Xerox when she became CEO of it and she was completely aware of its position. However, even though the company was near bankruptcy she was committed to get the company back on the right track. When times become hard, loyalty is the most important quality that you can find in a leader.
#3 valuing people
Even though she had to lay off a lot of people and sell company’s divisions to get it on track, she still valued the company culture. She once stated, “Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”
Besides having great qualities, a leader must know how to develop good strategies in order to keep a company on track, which is exactly what Anne did. Mulcahy developed tactics, such as focusing on the company’s customers and employees, which ultimately enabled her to save Xerox from bankruptcy and making it one of the world’s most profitable and innovative technology service enterprises. Many CEOs/leaders study, learn and implement Anne’s additional shared strategies as follows:
anne mulcahy: five strategies
Anne believes that communication is at the heart of everything. What she says is that, if your company is big then the only way you can make progress is if you get people to cooperate together in order to achieve a certain set of objectives.
In fact, Mulcahy claims effective communication was perhaps the single most important component of the company’s successful improvement strategy. “I feel like my title should be Chief Communication Officer, because that’s really what I do,” she said in previous interviews, emphasizing the importance of listening to customers and employees.
She says that good management instincts are very important. If an organization, sometimes, focuses too much on data and process that can be a barrier to timely decision making. She explained that in the 1990’s, even though Xerox’s management looked good on paper, in reality it was a nightmare. Nobody in the management team felt responsible for anything. Her instinct told her that she had to peel it all back to create clear accountability and well aligned goals.
#3 the art of listening
Anne says that Xerox turnabout taught her a number of leadership lessons, and the most important one was that of listening. “Good leaders listen,” she said. She listened actively to the customers, the shareholders and employees which enabled her to discover where the weaknesses in the organization were.
What will the company look like, is the most important question that every employee and every investor would want to know if your company is going through the period of turnabout and survival. To help her team focus on a new vision they all shared, she made them write a fictional Wall Street Journal article that explained what exactly the company will look like.
#5 customer focus
Anne always kept the company focused on the customers. Even when you’re in deep trouble you always have to think about the customers because they are the thing that mostly matters if you want your company to become successful and profitable. She explains that now every executive at Xerox is tied to a certain key account that he/she is responsible for and this builds a culture of connectivity with the customers.