Women Shaping the Global Economy Luncheon
Leading a Global Corporation
Anne Mulcahy, Former Chairman and CEO, Xerox Corporation

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Melanne VerveerWashington, DCOn November 1, 2010 Anne Mulcahy, former Chairman and CEO of the Xerox Corporation, addressed the Women’s Foreign Policy Group’s Celebrating Women’s Leaders luncheon on “Leading a Global Corporation” at the Four Seasons Hotel. The event was moderated by ABC News Business Correspondent Bianna Golodryga and was attended by senior government officials, corporate executives, ambassadors, and NGO leaders. At the event, WFPG launched a new program series, Women Shaping the Global Economy. Event Chair Ann Korologos noted that "[WFPG] could not have selected a better speaker" for the occasion.

At the event, Mulcahy spoke about leadership lessons learned at Xerox, the qualities of good leadership, challenges for corporations today, the relationship between business and government, and the importance of public-private partnerships, including the role of NGOs. She discussed her own experience at Xerox and what she believes to be essential qualities of a good leader: listening, having a clear vision, authenticity, and maintaining a strong relationship with your people.

To Mulcahy, being a good leader is “all about listening”—hearing not only what people have to say but also learning from it. Good leaders should have a clear vision, communicate where they want to take the organization, and inspire those working with them to want to take this journey as well. In order to do this, leaders must have a clear and consistent set of values; people must know what to expect from them and be able to trust in them. “What’s really important is the ability for authentic leaders to win their hearts… this type of leader actually intuitively creates followership, which for me is the best kind of definition of leaderships there is.” Additionally, for a good leader it’s not about the title but rather it’s about the people that they have the privilege to lead. Discussing Xerox’s quick turnaround in five years from losing $300 million a year to making over a billion, Mulcahy asserted that good strategy played a role, as did investing in research and development. However, “at the end of the day it is always about your people” as the success of an organization is dependent on them being willing to commit both to the goals of an organization and to its leadership.

Mulcahy discussed women corporate executives and noted that when she first became CEO in 2001, one could count the number of female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies “on one hand”; today there are 12. While it is progress one should never “confuse optimism with satisfaction…we have a long way to go,“ and “we should feel good when we have 250 women CEOs, and nothing less.” She went on to discuss the importance of supporting young women. “Kudos to this group (WFPG), I am a big believer that being active and focused is hugely important, and things like internships, and mentoring, and outreach activities are so important in creating the next generation of leaders, particularly in international affairs. So, I applaud your efforts.”

In terms of current challenges facing corporations, Mulcahy believes that the US needs to focus on job creation and the economy. For businesses, “you’re going to hire if you see demand and you have confidence in the marketplace and you see something that’s sustainable and improving, and the reality is that that’s not what we’re seeing.” In today’s economy, big business in particular has learned to achieve the same output and revenue with a lot less labor, which makes hiring unnecessary. Addressing the debate on protectionism and outsourcing, and their impact on unemployment, Mulcahy believes this to be is one of the most misunderstood issues. While she understands the populist view of American jobs being outsourced overseas, she asserts that this not the full reality. At Xerox, the company made more than half of its revenue overseas yet held less than half of its workforce abroad. Therefore, products were being exported to markets that were helping to maintain jobs in the United States. For the US “the reality is that this country is growing much slower than the rest of the world; those markets are going to be the source of revenue growth and employment growth for global companies.” Mulcahy commented that we should welcome the challenge, especially in terms of the growth of China. This type of competition can bring out the best in nations and “we would be foolish not embrace the market opportunity that China represents.” The US needs to “get off” the issue of outsourcing “and start working on investing in this place so we can build more jobs”. Driving employment growth in the US “is going to be a war that’s won based on… innovation,” and “this is a battle that we can win if we choose to.”

On the relationship between business and government, Mulcahy asserts that there needs to be “the right kind of constructive compromise” between the two. Government needs to be more responsive to business but not blind to the significant needs of the underserved in this country. It should do better at listening and responding to the needs and concerns of the business community, but the business sector must know that the government will not be granting all of its wishes. Instead, there needs to be cooperation and sacrifice from both sides, as “we need a lot more logic and a lot less political spin and polarized views.”

When asked about her own political aspirations and the rumors of her potential candidacy for the Administration’s National Economic Council Director, Mulcahy responded that she has not yet been approached and that she is unsure if it is a position that she is necessarily well-suited for. However, she does hope that there is a chance she could “play a constructive role in creating a conduit” between the business and government, either formally or informally, “because we need each other”

Mulcahy spoke about applying her leadership skills in a new context as Chair of Save the Children’s Board through which she has travelled to challenging countries such as Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq. Her work with the organization has led her to realize that most of these problems facing the nations are solvable and require public-private partnerships. From her perspective, education is the most constructive path, particularly for girls. This soft diplomacy, which is a social and not a military solution, will also advance the US’s reputation and standing in the international community.