Xerox's Mulcahy Named CEO of the Year: You're Kidding, Right?

Last Updated Jan 30, 2009 12:32 PM EST

Xerox by Chief Executive magazine. I somehow found this to be amusing, disturbing, and nauseating, all at the same time. CEO Anne Mulcahy was named 2008 CEO of the year

My first question was what's Chief Executive magazine? Well, CE bills itself as "The magazine for the Chief Executive Officer." That's logical enough, but it seems like a pretty limited audience. Yeah, yeah, I know my blog is called The Corner Office, but that's different. It's just a name, not a target audience.

Anyway, according to CE, Mulcahy was selected by her peers. The magazine apparently solicits nominations by email (I don't know any CEOs who respond to email solicitation, but whatever), and then a panel votes. I guess the panel consists of last year's winner and other CEOs, many of whom sit on each other's boards. Quite an exclusive little club they've got going on there.

This is apparently quite a big deal at CE. There are articles, photo ops, an award dinner, a luncheon for the panel, and of course, the closing bell celebration at the NYSE. Do winners get a trophy of an executive with a briefcase and a really gigantic head, too?

And the winner is --
Where to begin on 2008's winner? Let's start with Xerox. First, who cares? Seriously, it's a depressing story, if anything. One of the great innovative companies of our time which essentially gave all its ideas and intellectual property away and is now a forgotten B2B enterprise with a market cap of $6 billion, right up there with other once-important, has-been companies like Sun, Ford and US Steel.
Then there's Mulcahy. If I hear another inspirational story about a wonderful manager who everybody loves but does little to improve shareholder value, I'm going to be sick. Wait, that's not exactly true. When Mulcahy took the helm over 8 years ago, Xerox was a debt-ridden, $17 billion company with a $6 billion market cap and marginal profits. Now it's a $17 billion company with a $6 billion market cap and marginal profits. For that, she received total compensation of over $13 million in 2007 ... and an award. Not bad for a sales rep turned HR VP.

Well, I wouldn't read too much into this whole CEO of the year thing. Past winners include the predictable likes of Fred Smith (Fedex), Jack Welch (GE), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Andy Grove (Intel), and John Chambers (Cisco). On the other hand, 2003's winner was Hank Greenberg of AIG, and 2002's was Sandy Weill of Citigroup. Here's a great story about Weill, Jack Grubman of Salomon Smith Barney, and Eliot Spitzer (remember him?).

CE calls Mulcahy's efforts "the turnaround of the century," which takes media hyperbole to a whole new level. But there's no mention of IBM's Lou Gerstner, Apple's Steve Jobs, or Mark Hurd of HP. Maybe they were offered the dubious honor and turned it down. Probably not a bad move.

Is it me, or do you find this just a little bit incestuous and self-serving? Maybe nauseating is the word I was looking for.