Tips for Navigating a Crisis from Xerox

Last Updated Oct 31, 2008 9:11 AM EDT

  • Xerox fought back to financial health.The Find: When facing a crisis, there's nothing more helpful than studying a company that's been there before and come out all the stronger for it: Xerox has done just that.
  • The Source: The Public Offering blog from Columbia Business School.
The Takeaway: In 2000, Xerox was near bankruptcy. Eight years later it has revenue of $17 billion, with CEO and Chairman Anne Mulcahy getting most of the credit for the turnaround. She recently spoke to Columbia Business School students about the lessons she learned guiding her company through the crisis. Her tips have never been more relevant than they are right now.
  • Take time: "Understand the issues in the company and know what the problems are that you are facing. When I started -- I traveled the world for 90 days listening to the problems through the eyes of our employees, investors and customers. A lot of our problems were masking fundamental issues in the business; we were trying to put out fires when we didn't even know were the fuel leak was."
  • Communicate openly: Be candid and transparent.
  • Believe in it: "You have to have people aligned with your goals and objectives. It's the scale of belief that is the single most important thing to making progress and without that, it is a disadvantage being big."
  • Make decisions: Be bold and decisive and move quickly.
  • Simplify your business plan: "We undid all the complexities and engineering so that there was this incredible logic about revenue, costs, expenses and profits that we hadn't seen in a while."
  • Follow your instincts: "We had a five-dimensional management matrix [when I took over as CEO] and each step of it was logical, but when I looked at it, I couldn't really find anyone who was accountable. It's far less important the choice you make, than making a choice for clear accountability. So we made a choice: geography is our P&L center. At the end of the day, when I want to know what's happening in Europe, I call the guy who is managing in Europe. It's not perfect, but it's clear and it enabled us to move quickly and efficiently."
For those who are really big fans of Mulcahy, her entire presentation at the school is available on YouTube in four parts.

The Question: So have you seen many candid, decisive managers around these days, busily simplifying their businesses and believing in their future?

(Image of Xerox button by kretyen, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.