Anne Mulcahy Bio

Ms. Mulcahy, age 70, was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Xerox Corporation (business equipment and services) until July 2009, when she retired as CEO after eight years in the position. Prior to serving as CEO, Ms. Mulcahy was President and Chief Operating Officer of Xerox. She also served as President of Xerox’s General Markets Operations, which created and sold products for reseller, dealer and retail channels. Earlier in her career at Xerox, which began in 1976, Ms. Mulcahy served as Vice President for Human Resources with responsibility for compensation, benefits, human resource strategy, labor relations, management development and employee training; and as Vice President and Staff Officer for Customer Operations, covering South America and Central America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Ms. Mulcahy was the U.S. Board Chair of Save the Children from March 2010 to February 2017, and was appointed as a Trustee in February 2018.

December 11, 2023

How Anne Mulcahy Turned Xerox Around – and What Came After

During the 2000s, Anne Mulcahy was faced with the seemingly unsurmountable challenge of saving Xerox, rising to the position of CEO after her predecessor had been unsuccessful. In this retrospective, Mulcahy discusses the leadership lessons she learned, the role she believes CEOs should play in today’s society, and how she’s defining her life post-Xerox. 

Transcript

Ranjay Gulati:

For many of my younger Harvard Business School students, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when office workers and professors used typewriters to crank out words on paper. Or that making a copy of something was more complicated than snapping a PDF on your phone. But back in the latter half of the 20th century, an American company named Xerox was synonymous with making and copying documents. Here’s a TV ad from the 1970s.

Commercial Voice:

This is the Xerox 850 Display Typing System. It not only lets you create documents, it stores them. Of course, most pieces of information aren’t created for an audience of just one. So naturally, there are Xerox copiers and duplicators, ones that can copy as fast as two pages a second.

Ranjay Gulati:

Imagine that, two pages a second. Just a few decades ago, Xerox copy machines were so pervasive that people use the company’s name as a verb. We’d say, “Hey, can you please Xerox the syllabus for me?” And for many years, Xerox was such a powerhouse company that it seemed unstoppable. By 1970, Xerox commanded an astounding 95% share of the plain paper copier market. Its gross margins on some products topped 70%. Meanwhile, Xerox’s legendary research arm developed a range of technological innovations like the laser printer and the computer mouse. But in the 1990s the Mighty Xerox profit machine got terribly jammed up, and my guest this time was called on to fix it.

Hi everyone. Welcome to Deep Purpose, a podcast about courage and commitment in turbulent times. I’m Ranjay Gulati, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. Anne Mulcahy was a long-serving Xerox executive when she was tapped for the daunting task of saving the company. Once loyal customers were fleeing to other brands, profits were plummeting, and the federal government was investigating alleged accounting irregularities. Anne Mulcahy had worked at Xerox for decades. In fact, most of her career. And when she took the reins, piloting Xerox was hardly a dream job. Powerful outside investors were pressuring her to take Xerox into bankruptcy. And just a note for listeners, the quality of Anne’s recording had some technical difficulties in it, but should still be completely listenable.

Anne Mulcahy:

I think probably the biggest problem was we’d kind of lost our way from a market perspective. We were no longer producing competitive technology, we were overpriced, we were not customer focused, so market share was eroding rapidly. It didn’t show rapidly, though, because we were an annuity business, so it kind of covers your sins for quite a time. Well, the second issue was a huge balance sheet issue. It was a time when people were really focused on growth, and not really focused on balance sheet. And we had amassed $18 billion in debt and were generating negative cashflow. So it was certainly a time when the financial aspects of the company were really in trouble. And then the third area was we were in the midst of a SEC investigation for accounting irregularities. So people certainly were betting on the fact that we would file for bankruptcy, and that was pretty much the situation that evolved pretty much during my first 12 months as CEO.

Ranjay Gulati:

Wow. Anne, so this is really trial by fire. And you come into the job, you don’t have a finance background.

Anne Mulcahy:

I do not.

Ranjay Gulati:

You don’t have a CFO. You have an auditing firm that is about to be let go. You’re going to have to restate earnings. And you make a judgment call. First of all, you bring your team together and you let a couple of senior leaders go. And then you say you’re not going to plan for bankruptcy even. You’re not even going to start a little task force to contemplate that. Tell us about those two decisions.

Anne Mulcahy:

You really have to be focused. You have to be very determined and very focused. Letting a couple of leaders go was really instinctual for me, because they didn’t believe, they weren’t ready to support me or Xerox. They had aspired to the job themselves. And also, I think, were pretty cynical about the future of the company. So it was clear to me that those are the kind of people that I’d be looking over my shoulder all the time. And I needed to look forward and stay focused, so I needed people who really believed that it was possible and wanted to be part of a team that did something important. I think I figured out that warm bodies were not better than no bodies, and decided to kind of make sure that the people that were in place were committed and loyal. And that was huge, that turned out to be probably one of the better decisions that I made, was getting the right people in place and making sure that that team was aligned with what we needed to accomplish.

Yeah, members of the financial team were forced to leave because of the SEC investigation, so it was not a great recruiting time for a CFO, based upon that, so we had to go it without a CFO for a period of time. But I have to tell you, I rallied our financial resources around the world. We literally met every morning at 7:00 AM on a conference call, to talk about the business, to get a status on the restating of financials that was going to be required. We fired our accountants because I had no choice. Our accountants refused to acknowledge that the accounting was flawed, and the SEC would not allow us to file financials until we acknowledged the accounting was flawed. So the only way I could make it through and not file for bankruptcy was to fire the accountants, bring on a new set of accountants, restate the financials, and basically be able to file financials again. So it really wasn’t a choice, it had to be done.

But I think, despite the fact that it was a serious set of issues, for sure, there were a lot of assets in the company. This was a company that had tremendous loyalty, a ton of great engineering talent that hadn’t been led appropriately in a long time. It had one of the best sales organizations in the world, with nothing to sell. So we had assets. We clearly had strengths that could be leveraged to drive better results. I did believe that it was possible. It was clearly a bit bold to not prepare for bankruptcy, and I’m not sure that would be something I could get away with today, in terms of a board’s responsibility for certainly good risk management. But at the time it was doable, and we decided to go the course and begin on a turnaround for the company.

Ranjay Gulati:

Now, Anne, this sounds pretty scary. There’s so many moving parts, and you yourself maybe are not a bankruptcy expert or financial restructuring expert. And you actually were one of the rare CEOs who allowed us in a case that we have on this moment, to describe stopping on the Merritt Parkway and just saying, “Oh my God, this is overwhelming.” Is fear a common emotion? I think it is, we just don’t want to talk about it. But tell us what that moment was, and how you dealt with it. And maybe there was something about you we can learn.

Anne Mulcahy:

I actually felt a lot of fear during this period of time, and that was a moment when it really became a bit overwhelming. And I did, I was coming off a flight from Japan, and had landed to headlines that were really ugly about the company, and put us in a position where it was even going to be tougher to navigate our way through the problems we had. And I do, I remember just saying I felt like I had no place to go. I didn’t want to go to the office. I didn’t want to go home. The responsibility I felt to all of the constituencies of the company.

You don’t realize it, when people talk about filing for bankruptcy as if it’s quite frankly an easy solution. There’s an ecosystem around a company that really gets burned in bankruptcy. There’s retirees that lose retirement and healthcare. There’s 100,000 plus employees that literally will shrink to a negligible amount of people. There’s suppliers that will go bankrupt. It just felt like an overwhelming responsibility, and I wasn’t at all sure that I would be successful at that moment in time.

Ranjay Gulati:

Let’s talk about your predecessor. There was somebody else who came into this job two years before you. You were passed over for the job. He was a turnaround artist, he had done this before. He had the finance background, he understood finance. He built a pretty darn good plan around what he felt the company needed to do. So here’s somebody with the right skills and the right plan, and still fails.

Anne Mulcahy:

Yeah, I think it was one of the great lessons, of the importance of motivation and culture. I wound up, quite frankly, executing a great deal of what he had articulated and tried to put in place. It was a good strategy that became unexecutable because he didn’t have the hearts and minds and the people. So execution failed. And despite the fact that it was a fairly well thought out plan, he invested no time in building relationships, in communicating in a way that people felt a part of the solution, of aligning his team, understanding the importance of people wanting to have impact and wanting to find themselves their place in the story. He just didn’t see it. And the Xerox workforce just became armchair critics, they didn’t move. And as a result, none of those plans got executed.

Ranjay Gulati:

So Anne, in this context, now you come into the job and you have not a traditional pathway to a CEO, right?

Anne Mulcahy:

Yeah.

Ranjay Gulati:

You had been chief of staff, you had worked in the sales organization, you had run human resources, you had run worldwide operations. And you had run a business as well, so you had run a P&L. But it wasn’t even a job you were aspiring to at that point in time. What is it about your background, or even you as a leader, that you came in with a certain set of skills and a mindset that allowed you to take this on head on?

Anne Mulcahy:

I think intuitively, and I learned it particularly in sales, that it’s all about followership. At the end of the day, you need a team that’s inspired. You need a team that’s aligned. I was a big believer in followership. I had worked all over the company, I had relationships all over the company. I always said what I always aspired to be was the leader that people wanted to work for. And when you do that over 25 years, in a lot of different places, you actually wind up with an army of people who want to work for you. And it was powerful at the time. They gave me permission to actually lead and follow. So that was really important.

I think the other thing that gets overlooked sometimes, and no CEO comes equipped with every competence and capability that you might like, but I had two that were super important. One is, years and years in sales makes you think about seeing your business through the eyes of your customers. And running human resources makes you look through the lens of your people. And I have to tell you that those two experiences, for me, where the foundation of how I led. Just always thinking about the implications for the people of Xerox and the customers, in terms of how we would get things done and what had to be done and what those messages had to be.

Ranjay Gulati:

Anne Mulcahy grew up in Long Island, New York. She graduated from Marymount College in 1974, majoring in English and journalism. When Anne took the top job at Xerox, she was one of just five women leading a Fortune 500 company. Anne says her family background had a lot to do with preparing her to navigate corporate hallways and boardrooms, where men so vastly outnumbered women.

Anne Mulcahy:

I had four brothers, no sisters. That in itself is pretty good preparation for a woman succeeding in the business world. So my comfort level was really high, working in a world of men. My parents were very enlightened. They never wanted any difference between my brothers and I. We were treated equally. There weren’t my chores and the guy’s chores. It was very unconventional at the time. And with the exact same set of expectations about education, about career, about values. It was clearly a level playing ground. It was quite frankly a shock to me to experience the outside world, which was not a level playing ground, compared to the way I grew up. But I think it gave me an incredible amount of confidence in my aspirations, and a lot of respect as well.

I grew up in a home that was all about respect and values. My father was a writer, and my mom, literally, it was before they had Braille machines, would tap out and write books for the blind for high schools and colleges. I would watch her sitting there doing that, day after day. She was a volunteer. And she was the smartest woman I ever knew, and devoted herself to this. So I grew up in the house of people that had great values, had high expectations, and had a sense of equality. They were completely ahead of their time. So I view it as the single biggest gift that took me into adulthood, was that grounding. It was so strong and so positive that actually it carried me through, and to this day defines more of who I am than any experience I’ve had.

Ranjay Gulati:

Thank you for sharing that. Just to build off of that, the one thing that you talked about, later, when you were CEO of Xerox, and a word that you’ve used often, is coming to what you do with a sense of responsibility. This was personal, this wasn’t just a job.

Anne Mulcahy:

For sure.

Ranjay Gulati:

And that changed the way you showed up as a leader, versus an outsider coming in as a hired gun to fix it. Could you speak to that and how that makes you show up differently in some ways?

Anne Mulcahy:

I think a couple of ways. I think a lot of people who commit to turnarounds are focused on survival. I never ever used the word survival. It was always success. It was not going to be about surviving, it was going to be about being successful, about being a company that people could be proud of to be a part of. I remember, I used to have to do a quarterly presentation to the [inaudible 00:17:04] bankers, because we had fully extended our credit revolver. Not a nice group, by the way. These are tough people. And I remember getting asked a question about how would I define success, coming out of the turnaround? And clearly this was a group that wanted me to talk about growth and EPS and cash generation. I gave them an answer that was totally dissatisfying to them, but totally the truth. I said, “When Xerox employees want their kids to work here, I will know that we’ve been successful.”

It was obviously to the wrong audience, but it happened to be true. I felt that we were in it for the long term. And I think maybe short-term versus long-term is a big difference in terms of how I thought about the company. And although we took incredibly tough actions in the short term, so that we had the opportunity to be successful again. I always had my eye on the goalpost, and I always communicated with people about what we would be when we came out of this, what we would look like as a company when we came out of this turnaround, we rebuilt the company into a sustainable company that they could be a part of in the future.

Ranjay Gulati:

Do you think this kind of sense of responsibility helped you in some ways when you were making these tough decisions, which is kind of scary, or even going to strangers to ask for help? I remember you going to Sandy Weill, CEO of Citi. You don’t know him from anywhere, and you just walk up to him and ask for help.

Anne Mulcahy:

You asked me if I think that approach helped me, and the answer is a thousand percent. When I made tough decisions, I have to tell you, I had an army of Xerox people behind me. I remember people coming up to me when I was announcing, and I always announced layoffs in person, saying, “Are you okay?” And it was extraordinary to me that there would be any sense of, oh my gosh, this is tough for you. But yet somehow I earned that with them, and it made an extraordinary difference. And because the goalpost was so incredibly important, that the company actually make it through this period of time, you kind of lose a bit of your pride and become pretty humble about what you’re willing to do. That’s what I learned. And it’s never an easy thing to call people that you don’t know and ask for help.

But I was really fortunate. I did call a number of people and ask for help. Sandy was a really important one, because we had to get our revolver renegotiated. We had a holdout bank, and it was not Citigroup, but it was part of the consortium, and every bank had to agree or basically it would not get renegotiated. And then we would have had to file for bankruptcy. So the stakes were really high. And I went and spoke to Sandy. To his credit, he saw me, and he listened, he didn’t give me an answer that day. But I’m coming back from the city and I get a call that the last bank had signed. I used to have this conversation with myself about what do I have to lose? What’s the worst thing that could happen? And at the end of the day, have I done everything I possibly can to make a difference, to actually move the ball forward? If you can answer those questions, I think it creates a lot of courage in terms of what you wind up feeling empowered to do.

Ranjay Gulati:

One thing you didn’t have, Anne, was a support system of other CEOs you could call on. Just nearby to where you were. There was actually, you described once a network of male CEOs who got together and shared and leaned on each other and talked to each other. And you never had that, but you’ve done something about that.

Anne Mulcahy:

I have. Because that I think was a huge loss for me, not to have a network of peers or trusted colleagues that you could learn from, that you could ask questions from. I missed that, and I think it would’ve helped me a great deal. So yes, I think certainly things have progressed, but I think women still tend to be a bit isolated in terms of peer networks. So one of the areas that is, for me, paying it forward is to bring a group of women together who are CEOs or C-suite executives, and facilitate a networking group that can build relationships with one another and call upon each other when they have issues and problems. Part of it’s social, and we build a relationship and we get to know each other. And then it basically evolves into something where people have trusted relationships, and they can then call upon each other when they need support.

Ranjay Gulati:

Xerox is far from being the only big and seemingly invincible brand name to face extinction. There’s Kodak, Pan Am, Sears, Blockbuster, and many others. I asked Anne Mulcahy where the gravitational pull comes from that drags such great companies into the abyss.

Anne Mulcahy:

It’s amazing to me how frequently it happens, that really great companies that are leaders for a long period of time. I think a part of it is arrogance. I think you just assume that things will keep going the way they’re going. And you stop being as tough-minded, you stop looking around the corner for areas that you should be focused on. You don’t have that healthy paranoia that I think is required to keep a company current and competitive. I think they get insular. I would look at it and say Xerox issues were almost a hundred percent controllable inside the company. There was tough competition, but we had been disintermediated. We were just being out-engineered. It was all manageable within the company, if we had been tough-minded, if we had been focused on the market versus inside the company. And what happens when big companies that get complicated start to lose it, they also start to look for financial engineering. That was the other side of what happened. We got more focused on financial engineering than we did on the fundamentals of growth and competitiveness.

Ranjay Gulati:

If you search business journals for the essential qualities found in successful corporate leaders, a bunch of important attributes commonly make the list. Decisiveness, adaptability, discipline, intelligence, all good things. And I add to that catalog one more critical quality, courage. It takes guts to make bold decisions, to take risks and to weather tough times. Sometimes the lack of courage in corporate leadership contributes to the downfall of otherwise stalwart companies.

Anne Mulcahy:

The status quo is a lot more comfortable than taking on change. It is really tough to implement significant change in companies. And I think, yeah, people get complacent. And why do I want to take that on when there’s risk that it may not work? I often reflect on the fact that one of the advantages I had was living on the edge. It was the ultimate burning platform. And I didn’t really have a choice but to be courageous and decisive. The alternative was super unattractive. I do recognize that I had this, if you will, assist to make bolder and decisive actions, because of the crisis that we’re in. I coach a lot of companies that I work with to create incentive for change, and you have to work hard to make sure that people are motivated to actually change versus stand still. It’s not trivial to create that level of embracing change in companies, for sure.

Ranjay Gulati:

On this note, how do you give courage to others? Because I would imagine that at Xerox at the time you weren’t the only one who was fearful. Everybody was fearful.

Anne Mulcahy:

Absolutely.

Ranjay Gulati:

About their jobs, about this company, about their future. How did you give them confidence, courage, hope?

Anne Mulcahy:

Part of it does come from modeling. I think it gives permission for others to make tough decisions, to take risks. So I think modeling is a big part of it, but communicating is really critical. This is where you have to be super effective at setting the expectations of what you expect from people. And if you expect them to take risks and make decisions, and know that we won’t get it a hundred percent right and that’s okay, that we’re still better having made decisions, moving forward, embracing the future than we are living in the past. So communicating and touch is really a big part of how you get people to act.

And for me that was the vast majority of how I spent my time, was meeting with teams and leaders and folks on the manufacturing line, and setting expectations for them to be bold. And to really have the courage to do what was right for customers, and to do what was right for the business. To be able to talk about what we’re doing is stupid, and we got to stop doing it, and rewarding that kind of behavior. So yeah, I think modeling and communications are the tools that you have to really get people to be active participants in a change agenda.

Ranjay Gulati:

As you look back at time, are there any culture role models that you encountered? It doesn’t have to be CEO or anybody else. Were there people you saw like, wow, that’s pretty remarkable, that they took on this really tough… You must have seen people like that, that you also may have modeled intuitively yourself.

Anne Mulcahy:

I did, and that’s super helpful. Warren Buffet was that person for me, and kept clarifying for me what was important versus what was BS, and provided the answer to that question of what really counts? What makes a difference, what really counts? And keep your eye on that. He gave me courage to focus on the things that really mattered, and I will always be appreciative of that. So he certainly was someone who did that for me.

There were members of my board, Ralph Larsen, who was the CEO of J&J, and John Pepper, who was the CEO of P&G. These were icons. These guys were like the kings of business. And they gave me advice and counsel and trust. I couldn’t have done it without having their support and their trust. And John Pepper, who was viewed as one of the most ethical values-based leaders in America, made multiple trips to the enforcement section of the SEC with me to negotiate a settlement. This is a guy whose reputation is so stellar. But you want to talk about courage and doing the right thing, particularly when it’s not easy, I had some pretty awesome role models, for sure.

Ranjay Gulati:

Anne, I don’t want to ask too many negative questions, but why do we have such a lack of courage in the world? The opposite of courage is, I was looking for a word, finally I found one, called cowardice. The inability to act, the inability to take a position, the inability to do things, the right thing. It seems to somehow be the more prevalent mode of being. Is it simply that as human beings we are wired to be cautious and stay within our comfort zone, unless we are really forced to? How would you explain that?

Anne Mulcahy:

Being courageous doesn’t always work out. So it’s appropriate to be fearful, it doesn’t always end up the way you want it to. I think we have lots of examples of that too. I think people are so fearful of failure that I think staying safe often looks like the better path. You got to have a very strong North Star in terms of values at times, to take a stand. I witnessed some of this. People who fight for human rights, I’m always so in awe of. We see them, they’re being jailed in Russia and China. These are really tough, tough positions to take. I think it’s just really hard at times. Things always seem so clear in the rear-view mirror, Ranjay. It’s so easy to be critical. But at the time it’s very risky, and there are just people who it’s just not worth it to them to take the risk of failure.

Ranjay Gulati:

Why is courage not part of popular vocabulary? Is it just something that leaders don’t like to talk about? Does it feel very militaristic? Because courage is not just physical courage, there’s moral courage.

Anne Mulcahy:

Right. Absolutely.

Ranjay Gulati:

And in today’s world, leaders need to get comfortable exhibiting, not just financial courage or whatever courage, but moral courage. Why is courage not part of our conversation as much as it should be? I think it’s such an important part of business.

Anne Mulcahy:

I might step back, Ranjay, and say it doesn’t get used often enough anywhere. I would begin with families and schools. I think this should be a topic that is something that we are talking about very early in someone’s life, and demonstrating and pointing it out and setting examples for this idea of moral courage. And particularly I think the situations that CEOs find themselves in today. This is really a values discussion. This is about where’s your values roadmap in terms of guiding you as to when and how you take a position.

I think we should be talking about it more, everywhere, but where it really needs to be embedded is earlier on than business. Because I think that’s where it truly becomes part of who you are. It becomes a behavior, it becomes a thought process. And then I think you should be bringing it into business, and certainly it should be a topic of conversation in business. I still think we suffer a little bit from the hard stuff versus the soft stuff, and it’s a lot easier to talk about the hard stuff than it is the soft stuff. I think now we’re coming to a point in time where this is becoming such an important part of the role. We don’t have a choice but to start making this a bigger part of the agenda.

Ranjay Gulati:

As a board member, what do you tell your CEOs when they are being forced to take stances on very difficult moral issues, highly polarizing, at the fault line of society?

Anne Mulcahy:

The first thing I say is you have to have a voice. It’s no longer acceptable to be silent. And I say that with the caveat that not everything is as material to one company as it is to another. So I think there is a, I call it a social materiality here that needs to be gauged. And assuming it makes the radar screen, then you have to have a voice. Because not having a voice is like you’re still speaking, it’s just you’re not in control. And then I look at it and just say, this is where you have to look and say, if you’re a J&J, look at your credo. Look at the guidelines that you have set for your people in terms of values and behaviors and attributes that you expect. And use that as a guideline for how you respond to these kinds of issues. I think it starts to actually flesh out in a way that makes sense.

By the way, you won’t be pleasing everybody, obviously, and you have to get over that, no matter what you say. I just had this conversation with a CEO this weekend, because a statement was put out and the backlash was immediate and harsh. He said, “I think we have to put out another statement.” I said, “Well, if you’ve learned something that should be added to what you’ve said, terrific. But if you’re reacting because people are uncomfortable, they’re still going to be uncomfortable when you put out your second statement. So don’t be confused about that.” So this isn’t perfect, but I do think that there are values guidelines that companies can stay within and speak to these issues, whether it’s equality or violence or humanitarian issues. Those are values, and I think a lot of these issues overlap with their values, and I think it’s a guideline for how they should respond.

Ranjay Gulati:

In 2010, Anne Mulcahy announced her retirement from Xerox. Her handpicked successor was Ursula Burns, the first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 company. Anne had brought Xerox back from the brink of oblivion. In 2001, the company lost almost $100 million. Five years later, profits at Xerox topped $1.2 billion. Under Anne’s leadership, Xerox shed unprofitable products, cut its payroll, and expanded from being a hardware company into one that also provides essential business support services. Anne was 57 years old at the time she stepped down. I asked if it was tough to leave Xerox, a company she’d worked for so much of her life?

Anne Mulcahy:

Yeah, it was really hard. It was much harder than I expected, actually. I think it wouldn’t have taken much for me to do what a lot of CEOs do and say, “I can do two more years.” And let it roll along. It’s a great job. It’s the best job I ever had. I loved every minute of it. It was really, really hard to give it up. My motive for giving it up was twofold. One is I do think that we all have a shelf life in terms of our effectiveness. And it was almost 10 years, so I felt like the company would benefit from fresh perspectives. I really did believe that in my heart, that I had been there long enough. But the second reason was personal. My husband was older than I was. And it was a 24/7 job for me, I did not have work life balance. It didn’t go along with the territory.

And I think I told you this story, Ranjay, but I remember Ralph Larsen, the CEO of J&J, when he saw me wavering a bit he pulled me aside and he said, “Don’t stay.” He said, “Most of us think the most important part of our legacy is we’ve been CEOs,” he said. “But that’s not really true. You find that out when you leave. The most important part of your legacy is what you’ve done with your personal life, and your family and the people that really you love,” he said. “You need to spend that time with your husband.” And I told you, it was like the best advice I ever got. because I did leave, and two years later my husband died of a heart attack. And we had those two years to actually spend quality time. And that was the best gift I could have ever been given.

And I do think that, as much as that CEO job is all-consuming, all-fulfilling, and you may love it, it’s super important to find ways to transfer your passion also to other things. That’s when I became chair of Save the Children, which for me was also one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my life. I was chair of Save the Children for seven years, I’m still on their board. I love the place. And I’ve been able to stay engaged in business, because I’ve been on corporate boards. And I’ve been able to give back a lot through coaching and mentoring, and that’s meant the world to me. So yeah, I always tell current CEOs, it really is better to leave a little early than stay too long. And there is life after. You have to be thoughtful about it and make some choices, but it’s really important that you start to define your life post-CEO in a way that’s meaningful and in something that gives you fulfillment.

Ranjay Gulati:

Anne, I haven’t asked you about legacy. You mentioned the word legacy. How would you think about legacy, your legacy?

Anne Mulcahy:

I don’t think about it a lot. I can kind of envision what would be written in my obituary. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as legacy, if you know what I mean. I do think the most important mark that we leave in our lives is what we’ve done to support the people that we love in our lives. My kids, my grandkids, all the people that mean something to me, hopefully to have had positive impact on their lives. I do think that if you’ve been lucky enough to have a career like I’ve had, then I think you also have to think about giving back.

So for me, nonprofit work is super important, and my passion was about children. Now also I’m chairing the Nature Conservancy for Connecticut, and trying to make a difference on the environmental side. Because I think we all have to be worried about how we contribute to the solution there as well. So yeah, I’m trying to have an impact on things that will be part of the next generation’s future. Whether that’s coaching next generation executives, whether it’s being a good mom and grand mom, whether it’s changing the trajectory of children’s lives who are in war zones, or hopefully clean water and clean air. Those are the things that I hope I just leave a bit of a footprint about.

Ranjay Gulati:

Anne Mulcahy is the retired CEO of Xerox Corporation. There are many more of my in-depth conversations with top business leaders from around the world at my website, deeppurpose.net. That’s where you can also find out about my book titled Deep Purpose. Companies that are serious about establishing and working towards a deep purpose find that it delivers game-changing results for the workers, the shareholders, and larger society. So visit with me at deeppurpose.net. This podcast is produced by David Shin and Stephen Smith with the help from Craig McDonald and Jennifer Daniels. The theme music is by Gary Meister. I’m Ranjay Gulati. Thanks for listening.