09.23.10

Is She the Next Larry Summers?

Former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy is rumored to be the top choice to head the White House National Economic Council. Allan Dodds Frank talks to her colleagues about why she’s exactly what Obama needs.

If being a team player still counts in Washington, Anne Mulcahy—the former CEO of Xerox—could be a most valuable addition to the Obama White House economic squad, people who have worked with her during the last two decades tell The Daily Beast.

A leading management expert tells The Daily Beast: “She has dealt with turnarounds. She did a major turnaround at Xerox, so she understands that. She understands both domestic and global businesses. She is a very good leader. She has great skills in influencing other people. She is politically interested but not highly partisan. 

He continues: “The administration sorely lacks people with real business experience in the upper echelons and who would understand what really needs to be done to create private sector employment.”  

Unlike Larry Summers, the Harvard man-to-the-bone whom she would succeed as director of the National Economic Council, Mulcahy feels no need to prove she is the smartest person in the room. Nor is Mulcahy, a 57- year-old English and journalism graduate of Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, a profane bully as some suggest White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel may be.  

“Anne is a great collaborator and has great people skills, which is different from the person she would be replacing,” says the management expert. “She is able to work with others.”  

“When she ran Xerox,” says a woman who knew Mulcahy as she rose through the ranks during her 33 years there, “she would always say, it’s not about me, it is about the company. And she meant it. ”  

During the last decade, Mulcahy was often on the same “Top 50 Women in Business” lists with Carly Fiorina—the former AT&T, Lucent and Hewlett-Packard executive now running for Senate as a Republican in California.  

Recalls the woman who worked with both: “Carly Fiorina was an extrovert—competent, but all about me and always watching her career. Anne Mulcahy never did that. She always worried about ‘What’s happening to us?’ She always put the company first.”  

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Being a novice at Washington inside back-biting, Mulcahy could be a big political benefit to Obama with her perspective of big business gained from her experiences at Xerox where she began as a field sales representative. She is a director of Catalyst, The Washington Post and Johnson & Johnson and has served on the boards of Target, Citigroup and Fuji Xerox. As Xerox CEO and chairwoman, she fended off bankruptcy while cutting jobs and simultaneously pulling off the near miracle of reviving company morale.  

“Carly Fiorina was an extrovert—competent, but all about me and always watching her career. Anne Mulcahy never did that.”

After some trepidation by the Xerox board, Mulcahy became CEO of the copier company in August, 2001. When the Securities & Exchange Commission came calling about some questionable Xerox accounting that led to overstatements of profits. The new CEO instantly brought in top lawyers and settled the case in 2002, a case that handled differently could have deeply hurt the company.

Mulcahy also earned huge praise from professional women for promoting one of her own team, a black woman named Ursula Burns, as the new CEO of Xerox.

Her hands-on style of knowing the people she works with and actually listening to them has been a huge hit at “Save the Children,” the Westport, CT -based charity where she took over the volunteer board in March 1 after leaving Stamford, CT-based Xerox in 2009.  

“She has been our chair for seven months,” says Wendy Christian, the senior director of public affairs and communications for “Save the Children.

At a meeting in New York Wednesday, Christian says, “We were joking with her, it probably seems more like seven years to her because she has already gone to Pakistan, Haiti and Guatemala and is getting ready to go back to the Middle East. She is really a hands-on chair.” 

What could really make a difference for the Obama administration is the leadership style Mulcahy would bring to economic problem solving. 

“She sits around the table with us, and talks about different ideas,” says Christian. “She wants to hear everything each person has to say, then she makes clear decisions and doesn’t take lots of time over it once everything has been put out there. So the team approach is definitely something she fosters.”  

So far, says Christian, Mulcahy has not talked about a possible position in Washington. “I don’t know anything about that,” says Christian, “but we are delighted to have her right now.”

Allan Dodds Frank is a business investigative correspondent who specializes in white collar crime. He also is the former president of the Overseas Press Club of America, one of the many journalism organizations that protests the arrests of journalists abroad and repression of freedom of speech.