Cheryl offers: October’s HBR article “Why Succession Shouldn’t Be a Horse Race” describes how Xerox’s former CEO Anne Mulcahy successfully identified, developed and eventually passed the CEO baton to Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company while also marking the first ever woman-to-woman succession. What was most interesting was how Anne deliberately worked to avoid Jack Welch’s famous departure when two of the three top candidates left with him once they learned Jeff Immelt had gotten the job. She said “I don’t believe in having people face off against each other for the CEO job in a classic horse race.” Kudos to her on two fronts: first for recognizing that losing valuable talent in this day and age is not good business and secondly for seeing collaboration is better for the business than competition when putting the best person in the job. GE lost 3 very talented employees when Jack left. Anne managed to retain her 3 top contenders after Ursula was named CEO, although one has since retired. This article reinforced a message I read in Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode. In chapter 9 written by Marie C. Wilson, she notes “We need to fuel each other’s ambition, to give women the encouragement they need, and the courage embedded in that word. With our help, they can and will step forward and say, “I’m here. I can do this, and I want to lead.” This was written in 2007, just about the time Anne and Ursula were starting to write business history. Those who support the laws of natural attraction would say, “Of course!”
Colvin: In a nonstop infotech revolution, Xerox’s long-term strategy is a really interesting issue. So let me ask you Peter Drucker’s famous question: What business are you in?
Burns: We’re in the business of enabling our clients to focus on their real business while we take care of their document-intensive business processes behind the scenes. I’ll use Fortune as an example. You’re not in the business of printing a magazine. What we see about Fortune is the printed magazine.
Colvin: That’s right — we don’t own any printing presses.
Burns: But without someone who could supply you with that solution, Fortune would be less than it could be. What we do is manage document-intensive business processes for our clients around the world so that they can focus on what they really do.
We do that by applying technology. We do it in a global way, so that if you have locations around the world and you want to communicate with your people in a fairly consistent way, I can do that for you. It will look the same, feel the same, be delivered in the same time and the same format. All the information you want present will be there; anything you want redacted will be gone. You shouldn’t have to worry about that.
Colvin: That leads to the deal you recently closed: your acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services. Wall Street initially didn’t like it. What did you find so compelling?
Burns: It was all about extending our capabilities, expanding our reach. Xerox is a technology company that’s global and has an amazing brand. ACS is a business-process outsourcing company that knows business processes and how to manage them to be significantly more efficient. Business processes are all around documents, containers of information.
Colvin: So a document doesn’t have to be a piece of paper.
Burns: Very often it’s not. At the end phase, many documents end up on paper. But in the beginning they are digital files, photographic images, phone calls, voice data. All of that is key to having a business process work.
Xerox is really good at managing documents, and we’re definitely good at managing through a process. So what’s close to our core that we’re really great at, that we can extend by utilizing the things we have that are differentiators — technology, brand, global reach?
Business process was what we settled on. In ACS we saw a great company that was already diversified. It needed a brand. It needed technology to make this work more efficient, more automated. And it needed global reach. And we have all three.
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Here is a link to the complete interview: