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How Xerox Hawaii became a Best Place to Work by creating an engaging, innovative and truly original workplace

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The crime was unthinkable and its aftermath unimaginable, but Xerox officials — both from corporate and local offices — responded the only way they knew how: on a human level.

“The next day, when we met with Xerox’s president, who flew in from the Mainland, the first item on the agenda was, ‘What can we do for the families?’ So we checked on insurance coverages, benefits and made sure that the children were taken care of, setting up college funds,” says Lisa Ontai, who was then and continues to be a Xerox Hawaii public relations consultant. “The second item was about the community. There were a lot of people out there who felt lost and wanted to do something, so we set up a fund so people could give to the families. The next thing was communication with the public. Even though we had crisis communication manuals, we didn’t follow any playbook.”

Xerox Corp. president and CEO Rick Thoman and Hawaii vice president and general manager Glenn Sexton met with employees the next day, addressing them openly, honestly and without prepared statements. They visited with each of the victims’ families in the ensuing days, and Sexton was a news-time fixture, openly disseminating information to the public.

However, for Yee, what he found most impressive about his company and its leaders was what they didn’t do during the crisis and its aftermath.

“I started with the company with some of those guys. I knew them. I knew their kids,” says Yee. “On the corporate and local level, the focus was what was best for the families. Forget about the liability issue for now, we are going to do what is appropriate and fair and the legal things will shake themselves out.

“They never made us choose between our company and our friends. In many ways, I wasn’t surprised, because historically Xerox has been a socially conscious company,” continues Yee. “But you never know how it will react until the rubber hits the road.”

On the first anniversary of the shootings, Xerox Hawaii held a memorial service for the seven men at Honolulu’s First Presbyterian Church. The company did the same the following year, but it hasn’t held a formal memorial service since, preferring to let its employees remember and grieve for their former co-workers privately.

“I can honestly say that if you are a Xerox Hawaii employee today, whether you were with us during that time or not, it is not a part of our identity,” says Sexton, who has been Xerox Hawaii’s general manager for 17 years. “We don’t define ourselves by the tragedy, but when it happened, I couldn’t imagine us not being defined by it. This isn’t something we are putting out in the public, but it’s not something we hide from, either. It’s a sort of shared understanding between our employees.”

For Taniguchi, who joined Xerox Hawaii six months after the shooting, it’s an understanding from which she has gained strength. “When I first started, everyone was so closely knit and supportive,” she says. “We were going to do whatever it takes to pull through and that was a nice feeling. I knew that I didn’t have anything to worry about."



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