Monday, February 1, 2016

Standing ready amid corporate mitosis

When Xerox' CEO announced last week that her company would split into two businesses in an attempt to save itself, local leaders leapt into PR action to reassure the community.

And achieved little.

Bob Duffy, a former Rochester mayor and former lieutenant governor, scrambled a news conference. Now head of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, he told reporters that his Chamber "stands ready" to aid Xerox and/or laid-off employees. Newly elected County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo made a similar "stand ready" promise.
Xerox sponsor decals on Ducati 999 racing motorcycle.
By StealthFX [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This metaphorical "standing ready" means: zero.

Ursula Burns, the Xerox CEO, has so far downplayed the layoffs issue. But Duffy and Dinolfo tried to reassure the community without advance knowledge of Xerox's decision. For that matter, Xerox failed to first inform its own employees before the news leaked to the media. So more than a few people were blindsided by this "divide the baby in two" news. 

Backstory: Xerox had an outsourcing business, XBS. The company bought Texas-based ACS to grow the outsourcing business, which sometimes involved placement of Xerox technology in clients' operations. The experiment didn't work, and the ACS business will be spun off. 

Many Xerox friends have been eye-witnesses to the company's struggles against nimble competitors. I hope those friends keep their jobs as Xerox attempts corporate mitosis as a survival tactic. 

What can be done to help Xerox employees whose jobs may vanish? Duffy's Chamber has a modest recruitment subsidiary, RBA Staffing, that might assist a few Xerox workers in finding new jobs. The County didn't roll out robust job placement or retraining programs when Bausch & Lomb or Kodak imploded, and they didn't imply they'd do it now. (Existing state-funded programs served those disaffected employees.)

As for "standing ready?" A nice sentiment, but not very actionable. Leaders of county and commerce should have been in dialogue with Xerox leadership months ago. So it might be wise to look at other area companies in stressful situations, and start talking with them before the next surprise announcement.


  1. You are correct that the "standing ready" offer of assistance is pablum. However, in an announcement that is material to the company's stock, providing advance disclosure to politicians and employees would be illegal under SEC regulations. The story was leaked by "anonymous sources" leaving the company in a position to either move up the announcement or stand mute until it was made official.

  2. True, SEC rules tie the hands of executives with regard to material disclosures. But both Duffy and the county GOP should have ongoing dialogue with corporate leaders so there's at least a line of communication to get an accurate read when the news breaks. We held such 'generic government leader briefings' at State Street once or twice a year. Subsequent coverage of the Xerox event suggests that Sen. Chuck Schumer had access to Ursula Burns shortly after the public announcement -- access that Duffy or Dinolfo seemed not to have.