Talk Story with Glenn Sexton of Xerox

Sexton has been with Xerox for more than 30 years, guiding the Hawaii branch through dramatic changes in business and technology, and one of the greatest tragedies in Hawaii history: the mass murder at the Xerox warehouse in 1999. We talk with Sexton about how a global company remains relevant in a local market.

Any large technology company is always invested in old technologies. But to survive, it has to look ahead. How has Xerox dealt with that conundrum?

When I began with Xerox in the 1980s, “copiers” were viewed as rapidly becoming commodities. You had a real technologically innovative period in which companies like Wang Laboratories, Dek and Sun were all coming online and growing rapidly. A lot of those companies have gone away, and it’s some of their technologies that have become commodities. For example, mini-computers were the rage for a long time, and so were stand-alone word-processing devices.

What Xerox provides has sort of gone the other way and become more sophisticated. All of our devices are generally on a network. A lot of what we do today still has to do with paper, but a lot also has nothing to do with paper. It’s electronic documents, electronic document repositories, scanning documents. Scanning to email is probably the most used feature nowadays on our devices.

So, you have this world in which paper co-exists with electronic documents. We serve all of that. Often, the challenge in the workplace is converting from paper to digital or digital to paper. We do that with technology, and we do that with services, often involving human resources that work at our customers’ sites.

Do new technologies, like the cloud, represent challenges or opportunities for Xerox?

I think they’re opportunities. Cloud technology enables accessing digital documents, but you’ve got to pull those documents down and you’ve got to deal with them in your local space.

Sometimes it involves actually printing some of those documents. So, even with the advent of cloud and similar technologies, print is still often essential. But maybe you only print some of the document, which is sustainable; you print what you need when you need it.

A great example of that, and one of the most popular features on our equipment today, is something called “mobile print.” With the explosion of mobile devices, like tablet computing, the iPad, what have you, people still want to be able to print in their enterprises. If they’re traveling and they just need to have two pages of an Excel spreadsheet, they can simply walk up to a Xerox device and have access via mobile print.

What are the advantages and challenges of managing a big global company in Hawaii?

Xerox is very unique in that we continue to have a corporate presence here. Many other technology companies have long since changed their model, especially in Hawaii. … Our approach has always been to leverage the global power of Xerox, but to make it local, because our customer base appreciates that. People and businesses in Hawaii really do have respect for large brand names and the resources of large, large enterprises. You can see that in consumer behavior: The Best Buys and Costcos are extremely popular with people in Hawaii, but they want it localized. They want to have local service, they want to have local values, local people, as much as possible, to interact with. That’s been our model. That’s what I’ve done in my career. That’s what my team has done.

Xerox Hawaii will probably always be associated with the killings in 1999. How did it change the company?

I don’t mind talking about it, because, frankly, it would be unnatural not to talk about it. It was a huge loss, a huge tragedy. Certainly, the greatest loss was those seven terrific men and the impact on their families. Having said that, the way the people that work for this organization responded I think was courageous, and I respect them for that, because we were closed for one day, and then we were back to work taking care of our customers.

What I also noticed was that our customers were extremely supportive of Xerox and our employees. They felt the pain, and we felt the aloha. I’ll never forget that, because I think that’s pretty unique to Hawaii. I’m not sure that kind of outpouring would have occurred in other major cities across the United States.

How did it change you as a manager?

What I’ve learned as a leader, as a person, is to expect the unexpected. You don’t really control events in your life, but you have to be able to control your response to them. I’ve used that model over and over again. Frankly, whenever I get stressed or concerned about anything, I think back to that time and realize that any particular challenge or adversity kind of pales in comparison. That’s given me a source of personal strength. But I also think in a way it galvanized the organization because that was a huge challenge. The leadership in responding to that situation was apparent. And I think it’s true that adversity does strengthen you, personally and as a team.

Categories: Leadership, Lifestyle, Technology