Anne M. Mulcahy is not someone who nurtured fond dreams of a desk in the corner office. Even today, after 3 1/2 years running Xerox Corp. (XRX ), Mulcahy, 52, seems a little surprised that fate brought her to this spot.
When Xerox' board chose Mulcahy to lead the Stamford (Conn.) copier maker back in August, 2001, the company was in terrible shape. It was fighting the Securities & Exchange Commission over accounting practices, and her predecessor had flamed out after trying to overhaul Xerox' powerful sales organization. The biggest problem of all: $14 billion in debt. Bank-ruptcy was a real possibility. But Mulcahy proved relentless in pursuing a fix. After making sharp staff and business cut-backs, bringing in a new chief financial officer, and meeting with innumerable customers, she stabilized Xerox. By the end of this year, its debt will be down to $9.8 billion.
Mulcahy has spent the past two years trying to move forward again. She faces tough competition from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ), Canon (CAJ ), and others. But she has posted respectable numbers: Though Xerox stock is nowhere near the highs of the late 1990s and 2000, it rose 22% in 2004 through late December, compared with 9% for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. And after meeting earnings expectations in each of the past 10 quarters, Mulcahy expects new products to drive a sales increase in 2005 -- the first for Xerox since 1999. "Turnaround or growth, it's getting your people focused on the goal that is still the job of leadership," she says.