Anne Mulcahy, Xerox's first woman CEO and the leader who brought back the Norwalk-based Fortune 500 company from the brink of disaster in the 2000s, had plenty of advice about careers, leadership and innovation to share with a ballroom full of businesswomen Wednesday afternoon at Westport Inn.
"I have a passion for speaking to women in business and supporting their missions to be leaders," Mulcahy said. "These days we're seeing more breakthroughs and women CEOs are not as rare anymore. I was one of five (women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies). Now you need all your fingers and some of your toes to count them.
"But we represent half the talent," she added. "We shouldn't be satisfied until there are at least 250 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies."
Mulcahy was the featured speaker at the Westport/Weston Chamber of Commerce's first Working Women's Luncheon. She retired as CEO of Xerox in 2009 and stepped down as the company's board chairwoman in 2010.
Mulcahy is currently the chairman of the Board of Trustees for Save the Children, a Westport-based nonprofit that also had a strong presence at Wednesday's event.
"I'm privileged to be associated with them (Save the Children)," she said. "There is a lot of great leadership in the nonprofit world."
Mulcahy said the key to improving the future for children around the world is collaboration between the nonprofit sector, profit sector and government sector.
Lisa Parrelli Gray, executive director and president of the Westport/Weston Chamber of Commerce, thought the event was a success and sees a bright future for the Working Women's Luncheon program.
"How did we get Anne Mulcahy to speak at the first lunch?" she said to kick off the event. "Relationships. Relationships is what the Westport/Weston Chamber is all about. Growing business through relationships is our goal."
Mulcahy took over as CEO of Xerox in August of 2001 during a tough economic environment. Xerox at the time, she said, was in "deep trouble" as the company was bureaucratic, complex, had lost connection to its customers, and its costs were too high and noncompetitive,.
"My good friend Warren Buffett told me I wasn't promoted but was drafted into the war," Mulcahy said. "What you find in a time of crisis is that there is the opportunity to move forward quickly. Quality trumps perfection every time. You need great listening skills at that time. Listen to your customers and employees. They will let you know your problems before it becomes a crisis."
Xerox lost $200 million in 2002. In 2006, it made $1 billion, she said.
"It was the learning platform of a lifetime," Mulcahy said.
She said innovation was the key to the turnaround. The company took a risk by investing in the innovation, but "that long-term investment saved the company as we invested in developing products. It's an epidemic in business today. There's not enough long-term investment. Everyone is focused on cost effectiveness."
She said two-thirds of the company's revenues come from product innovations of the last 24 months.
Empowering others and having a vision is another key to being successful in business, she said.
"Align your people around common goals and objectives," she said. "People need to feel accountable and feel that they have a skin in the game."
Mulcahy's talk came on the same day that a study of government data revealed that women graduating from college earn 82 percent less than their male counterparts. Mulcahy said she recently spoke with women students at Princeton and told them they are likely to "fall off the corporate ladder sooner" than men.
Mulcahy encouraged women to "define and manage your priorities. Then set boundaries and live by them."
She raised two children while climbing the corporate ladder at Xerox, she said.
"Nobody can have it all," she said. "But you can have a serious career and a life. No one should let their career be the single focus of your life."
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