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Anne Mulcahy: How My ‘Dead-End’ HR Job Made Me a Better CEO

Anne Mulcahy: How My ‘Dead-End’ HR Job Made Me a Better CEO
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In the 1990s and early noughties the perception that future business leaders did not ‘waste their time’ in HR was more prevalent than it is now.

However, Anne Mulcahy, former VP HR (1996 to 1997) and CEO (2001 to 2009) of Xerox, has cited her time in the function as essential to her progression to Chief Executive.

In an interview with Forbes, Mulcahy said this of her first senior leadership role at firm: “The position was historically under-rated and bureaucratic—and, frankly, that reputation was earned.”

She also said her friends had warned her about the “corporate dead-end.”

When asked how her time in HR shaped her leadership development, she said: “My career path at Xerox was pretty erratic. I never followed a traditional plan of development. I had done well in sales for many years but I didn’t want to just keep climbing that ladder. I was looking for something new. HR was my first really senior position, and it taught me how to operate with other people at that level.

“What I took away from my sales experience was a deep understanding of Xerox customers– seeing through their eyes how to create value. When I was offered the HR job, it was a chance to learn through another set of eyes — Xerox people and the keepers of our company culture.”

During her tenure as CEO she cut the workforce when turning around the company. She said of this decision: “I always said when I started the turnaround, I had a lot of ‘leadership money in the bank’ to draw on. Without it, I never could have pushed through the changes we needed. My years in HR were a big part of how I built that up.”

She stopped short of saying a stint in HR is essential for all business leaders, but did say that “it can certainly be helpful.”

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SOURCE: HR Grapevine


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