Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Great Lessons from a Leading CEO

I was just reading the transcripts of a Q&A session that Anne Mulcahy, the CEO of Xerox, gave at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and was extremely impressed with some of her answers. Anne was recently named the fifth-most-powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine, so it is probably worth reading these comments very carefully…

Q: Did someone notice you and start moving you up in management?

A: What I tell people at Xerox and other companies all the time, it should never be one person, it should be a series of relationships. You should be accumulating really great relationships throughout your career. I enjoyed what I did and over a lot of years you start building up a cadre of people that actually want to see you succeed – and it helps a great deal.

Q: How did you learn management?

A: I learned to be a learner. When you get into a job the tendency is to say, “I’ve got to know it. I’ve got to give direction to others. I’m in the job because I am better and smarter.” I always took a different view, that the key was to identify the people who really knew and learn from them.

Q: When you were named CEO of Xerox the company was in extremely deep trouble, what did you do first?

A:  Well, I asked a lot of people for advice. I called – never met him – called Warren Buffet and said “I’ve got this huge set of problems, would you be willing to chat with me?” I met with him and he listened for probably two hours. And he gave me this piece of advice, which, to this day, really sticks with me.  He said, “You’ve got a million different constituencies out there, and the ones that are going to seem like the most important – whether they are the regulators or the investors or the bankers – you’re thinking those are the people you need to survive to the next day. Put them all aside, and the prioritization has to be around listening to your people and your customers as to what they think is wrong and what you have to do.” I got on a plane for 90 days and circled the globe, listening to employees and customers tell me what they thought had gone wrong.  

Surround yourself with people who want to help you succeed, ask for help, listen to employees and customers… extremely bright ideas from a very talented and successful CEO.