Born in Rockville Centre, NY in 1952 she was the only daughter in a family with four sons. That could have been daunting for her had it not been for her parents. They encouraged her to compete equally with her brothers and that’s exactly what she did. In so doing, she learned how to hold her own in the face of adversity and criticism. She learned the power of listening in order to understand people and situations. These were lessons which would stay with her throughout her life.
She went on to earn a degree in English and Journalism from Marymount College of Fordham University and then began a career in field sales with Xerox. She married – a sales manager with Xerox – and had two children, both sons. At times during her sixteen years in sales she entertained thoughts of leaving her career to spend more time with her boys but she did not. She rose through the ranks – at a rather brisk pace.
She was named VP of human resources in 1992. In three years she became VP and staff officer of worldwide customer operations. From there Senior VP and chief staff officer. By the end of the century, she was named president of general market operations and COO. The lessons from her early years played a major role in her success. She listened to customers – and employees – and she made the necessary tough decisions. However, the real challenges were still to come.
Ten years after leaving field sales she was named the first ever female CEO of Xerox. The company was in dire straits. Expenses were too high, profit margins too low. With $18 billion in debt many were advocating – or at least expecting – Xerox to declare bankruptcy. As if that weren’t enough, the company’s billing and accounting practices were the subject of an extensive investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
She began by saying the Xerox business model was unsustainable but that bankruptcy was not an option. Her goal was to re-establish Xerox as great company. She met with 100 top executives and asked for their full commitment – 98 did so. Next she went back to her corporate roots – to the field to meet with customers – to listen. When one customer said she should ‘kill the Xerox culture’ she responded – ‘I am the Xerox culture’. She was deeply committed to Xerox and its resurrection.
Making the tough decisions – she sold off some of Fuji Xerox, eliminated 28,000 employees and cut billions in expenses. A settlement was reached with the SEC. She stood her ground, however, when it came to Research and Development, refusing to cut back on R&D. Her vision for the future relied on technology and transitioning to a digital content management company – a service based company.
Her efforts paid off. Under her leadership, Xerox saw full year profitability in 2002. She cut most of the fat – without losing muscle. What began to emerge was a newly vibrant company with restored integrity, improved financial performance, a more solid management structure and importantly, a keen focus on the customer. She was the first woman ever to be named CEO of the year by Chief Executive Management magazine. These accomplishments are not what defines a fearless brand. Rather, they were achieved because the CEO, Anne Mulcahy, is herself, a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands combine listening and courage to create conviction
Anne Mulcahy transitioned Xerox from a crippled company to one that was positioned for current – and future – success. She was not a financial expert – she actually spent endless hours with experts to learn the essentials. To achieve such a turnaround Mulcahy relied on her core strengths – listening and standing her ground. She was focused and decisive – making tough decisions with a vision for the future.
Xerox is significantly better off because of Anne Mulcahy’s leadership. She was CEO for ten years, stepping down at the age of 57. That marked the end of an era, but not the end of a fearless brand.
While at Xerox and after retiring, Mulcahy has served on several public boards including Citicorp and Johnson & Johnson. Importantly, she is bringing her strengths – courage, listening, conviction – to the non-profit world. Since 2010, she has been Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Save The Children Federation, Inc., an organization dedicated to creating lasting change in the lives of children throughout the world.
Being an advocate for women is both a responsibility and an opportunity that Mulcahy embraces. She acknowledges relative parity at the entry level yet is keenly aware that such equality does not exist at the executive level – in business and in government. As a role model, mentor, and advocate, she is a force that will have an impact.
There is a great deal to learn from Anne Mulcahy when it comes to building a fearless brand.
Compete on an equal basis – Be fair, be confident, be empathetic and be determined.
Listen – Listening is the key to better understanding others – and ourselves. Listen with intent.
Have ambition … and humility – A healthy dose of ambition is critical to success – have bold aspirations. However, blindly charging ahead can be disastrous. Know – and embrace – both your strengths and your shortcomings.
Accept reality but have the courage to change- Anne Mulcahy’s words say it best. “Do not defend yourself against the inevitable. Companies disappear because they can’t reinvent themselves.”
When it comes to understanding the meaning of branding for results – you need look no further than Anne Mulcahy. She began building her fearless brand at a very young age. She received tremendous advice and support from her parents. Today, she continues to refine and polish her brand. The results are powerful.
Use Anne Mulcahy as a role model when building your own fearless brand and when someone says “You brand like a girl!” – say “Yes I do. Thank you!”