ANNE MULCAHY, President and CEO, Xerox

You’ve had a long and successful career at Xerox. What attracted you and kept you at the company?
I joined Xerox as a sales representative in 1976. I was intrigued by the Xerox technology, the [customer-oriented] sales approach, and the opportunity to promote a world-class brand — factors that still motivate me today.

And why I stayed? It can be summed up in two words: Respect and value, evidenced by the company’s commitment to [programs such as] diversity; fringe benefits like adoption assist-ance and first-time homebuyers assistance; robust mentoring programs; and a strong commitment to an open-door policy across the company.

Is it intimidating or inspiring to be only the fifth female CEO currently at a Fortune 500 company?
Both. Intimidating because you know that the world is watching, and, in some respects, you are held to a higher standard because of the “uniqueness” of the position. But it is equally inspiring to serve as a role model, to personify the broken glass ceiling.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
It's one that I'm living every day at Xerox as we undergo a comprehensive turnaround of the company. It’s relatively simple: Strategies can be roughly right, but execution must be perfect.
Many companies spend a great amount of time and resources on developing the perfect strategy, only to see it fail when the implementation is ineffective. Xerox learned from experience that precise execution is the driving force behind any strategic change.

What’s the best advice you could give to aspiring CEOs?
Know your people — what drives them to succeed and what influences their performance. Then, apply this knowledge to every decision you make. Too often, leaders seek to completely change a culture — a massive undertaking that rarely results in success.