Xerox's Anne Mulcahy

The former Xerox CEO, retiring as chairman May 20, on her most difficult leadership decisionknowing when to walk away

"It's really hard to give up power. You get up with a bounce in your step every day because you know you can make a difference"

The CEO job wasn't something I sought out. It was like being drafted into a war. But I grew up at Xerox (XRX), and I wanted it to have a future. I wanted people to be proud of this company again. There was no question I would take the job. The question was whether I could succeed.

I loved every minute of being CEO. The biggest surprise is how hard it is to give it up. I would have thought I'd be running out the door once the place was in shape. I almost understand why so many successions go badly. It's really hard to give up power. You get up with a bounce in your step every day because you know you can make a difference.

I went from being "I just want to be a CEO" to understanding that I have to be an advocate for women. There's a responsibility that comes with the position. If you don't speak about the need to focus on the progress of women, who will? Maybe we've reached a degree of parity at the entry level, but we clearly don't have that in the executive ranks—or in government, for that matter.

To retire at the age of 57 is a gift. I became head of Xerox at 47...but the more relevant gauge is time in the job. I was there 10 years. That's long enough. To have stuck around until I was 65 would be a disservice to Xerox, a disservice to my successor [Ursula Burns]. It's inappropriate to suggest a single individual is the driving force of a company. You need a good dose of ambition, but it has to be tempered by humility. If you wait for the perfect set of circumstances to leave, you will stay too long.

I don't know yet what the word retirement means. I've always said I wouldn't be head of another public company, and I'll stick to that. I'm a one-trick pony. I've got other things I want to do. I'm chair of the board of Save the Children. I'm not looking to make any more money.

Hobbies? I have none. I used to make them up when people would put together those lists, just so I could sound more interesting. My life has been invested in this job. It's bittersweet, but I feel really fortunate.

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