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Anne M. Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox, has the company cranking again. Here are her thoughts on changing an organization, taking risks, and telling stories

Anne M. Mulcahy

Chairman and CEO, Xerox Corp.

Mulcahy, 51, was named president of Xerox in May 2000, and CEO a year later. The company was a shambles, its core copier business decimated. Today, Xerox is still no one's idea of a hot growth company -- but profits are up sharply, and its stock price has more than doubled in two years. Mulcahy told Fast Company what she has learned in four years under the gun.

Change is the most difficult thing. You know how tough it is to basically wipe out your office manufacturing and outsource it? To invest in global services and R&D while we were being ruthless about taking cost out of other parts of the business? It's easy to talk about, tough to do.

In a crisis, you have the opportunity to move quickly and change a lot -- and you have to take advantage of that.

Change doesn't happen if you don't work at it. You've got to get out there, give people the straight scoop, and get buy-in. It's not just good-looking presentations; it's doing town meetings and letting people ask the tough questions. It's almost got to be done one person at a time.

Storytelling is hugely important. At our town meetings, the most frequently asked question wasn't whether we'd survive, but what we would look like when we did. I got great advice: Write a story. We wrote a Wall Street Journal article, because they had been particularly nasty about us, dated five years out. It was about where we could be if we really stood up to the plate. And people loved it. No matter where I go, people pull that article out. They personalized it.

Stories exist at all levels of the corporation. You talk to tech reps, and they'll tell you what they did to help turn this company around. Whether it was saving a buck here, or doing something different for customers, everyone has a story. That creates powerful momentum -- people's sense that they're able to do good things. It's much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.

Risk taking gets a little easier when you've been where we've been. The downside is lower, and you can't stand still. So you have to make choices, and you can take risks.

I communicate good news in the same way I do the bad news. I thank people and make sure they feel a sense of recognition for their contribution. But the trick is to always use the opportunity to talk about what's next, to pose the next challenges. Where do we want to go? How do we want to build on it?

My strengths and weaknesses haven't changed a whole hell of a lot. At 51 years of age, you're pretty well formed. The important thing is to recognize the things you don't do well and build a team that reflects what you know the company needs that you yourself don't bring to the table.

There's not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders. I want people who create organizations that get aligned, get passionate, get really inspired about delivering.

I don't hold back in meetings. I always had great respect for Paul Allaire, my predecessor. He would sit back, and hours of debate would go by, and you'd never be able to tell what he thought. Then he'd finally play his card. I play my card much quicker than that.

One of the most extraordinary things was the support I got from employees. If I had to make a tough decision, I would get emails saying, "Keep your chin up, you're doing the right things." It was like, "Whoa, isn't that my job?" I'll always be grateful for that.

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