If there’s one company that provides a model for creating successful salespeople, it’s Xerox. Xerox was founded in 1906 and became famous for the world’s first plain-paper copier, which was launched in 1959. The company went public in 1961 and made millionaires of the early investors.
Xerox’s financial success was powered by a success-focused, process-driven, and skills-enabled sales force. First-line managers set high expectations, and efficiency was their mantra. Xerox became world famous for its training course, PSS (Professional Selling Skills). New recruits would learn the skills, techniques, and processes needed to succeed in a high-pressure, competitive environment. The corporate culture enabled high performers to move up the corporate ladder and enjoy great support and training every step of the way.
The company turned salespeople into legendary leaders. For example, Ann Mulcahey began her career at Xerox as a sales rep in 1976 and rose to CEO in 2001 and chairman in 2002. Mulcahey is the author of a great business turnaround story. In 2000, the company lost $273 million, but by 2005 Xerox made a $978 million profit.
Mulcahey was not the first CEO to save Xerox from oblivion. David T. Kearns (CEO from 1982 to 1990 and chairman from 1985 to 1991) achieved one of the most spectacular turnarounds in the 1980s. Under his leadership, Xerox won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1989. Kearns went on to become undersecretary of education.
There are countless Xerox alumni who made their mark on American business and society. Take Barry Rand, an African American. In 1968, the 24-year-old crashed a private Xerox recruiting event in a Washington, DC, hotel proclaiming, “Everybody needs good salespeople, therefore you need me.” By 1970 his sales achievements earned him the number three spot in the country. Rand opened the door for minority recruiting at Xerox. His stellar performance earned him a corporate vice president position in 1985, and he was named president of Xerox’s U.S. marketing group in 1986.
Take a look at the list of Xerox alumni. It reads like a page from Who’s Who of American business.
Bill McDermott, a former Xerox salesman, moved the territory of Puerto Rico from last to first. Today McDermott is the CEO of SAP Americas. He has duplicated the Xerox success formula where leaders align people around a common set of objectives with an intense focus on winning.
Hal Becker, at the age of 22, was Xerox’s number one salesperson among a national sales force of 11,000. Today Becker is a consultant, speaker, and the author of the bestseller, Can I Have 5 Minutes of your Time? (Oak Hill Press, 1993).
Jerry Whalen started as a Xerox sales trainee in 1975 and rose to VP national sales operations, consumable supplies with close to $1 billion in sales. In 2003, Whalen was appointed VP sales of the United States Postal Service, where his 1,100-member sales force is responsible for $56 billion in commercial revenue.
Xerox is the place where some of America’s best salespeople went to school. It’s news to the uninitiated, but the Xerox alumni smile and say, “Why reinvent success when you can duplicate it from history?”