The Big Move
As the highly respected CEO of Xerox, Anne Mulcahy was credited with saving the once-troubled global giant. Now as chairman of the board of trustees at Save the Children, she helps the world’s most vulnerable—this time, it’s personal
When Anne Mulcahy was getting set for her first visit to Afghanistan, jokes were flying about the new wardrobe she required. There weren’t enough steel-soled mountain boots in the closet to replace all the power heels she needed as CEO of Xerox Corporation. Now she is the new chairman of the board of trustees at the massive nonprofit Save the Children, a position that draws on her buiness savvy to support global philanthropic initiatives. She is no longer schmoozing in boardrooms and hotel suites; instead, she is up to her knees in dire landscapes where some desperate mothers need a shot of antibiotics or at least a blanket.
Anne Mulcahy’s new situation almost has the ring of a Disney movie—bigtime corporate honcho leaves the gleam of her corner office and the comforts of her lovely Fairfield home and scuffs her shoes in remote locales. Except this is very real, and there’s no denying her seriousness of purpose. Despite Anne’s vivacious charm and her easy, self-deprecating smile, there’s no mistaking that she is the general leading the charge. She reveals it even in the way she marches down the hallway of Save the Children’s headquarters here in Westport, illuminated with purpose, noticing everybody, laughing easily.
For all her constant good humor, she has not completely shaken the old corporate suit. She keeps a tight schedule and still talks of “strategies.” What is different here at the Save the Children office is that most of the managers actually go to war-torn communities around the world to meet one-on-one with people who are suffering and barely getting by. Ask any one of these Save the Children employees, “What’s new?” and you’ll unleash stories. They quickly revise preconceptions of what it means to be heroic.
Anne Mulcahy is on a new voyage of discovery. As a board member, the first time she got her feet wet, she really got her feet wet. “I went to Guatemala and actually accompanied one of these community health workers after the most incredible drive to a very remote area in the mountains and then about a mile through muddy trails to get to this remote village.”
She joined up with one of the health workers who administer the aid. “She was visiting a new mom and her baby, and helping provide the right kind of nutritional and medical support so that this mother and newborn child could get the benefit of fundamental things to avoid diarrhea. It was an extraordinary experience.”
A frank look. “It’s a sustainable model: That person lives in the community and is there to support the newborn.”
Anne’s next stop: Iraq.
The Troubled Giant
Only a decade ago, Anne Mulcahy was made president of a deeply troubled industrial giant, Xerox. In another eighteen months, she was CEO of the company, and people got to know her style pretty quickly. It was not anything like the ruthless slash-and-clash style seen in other celebrity CEOs of the era. She had spent her entire working life at Xerox, but sentimentality was only part of the reason she wanted to save the company. This was family. You don’t abandon your family and sell it off to the first bidders.
Anne grew up on Long Island, the only sister to four brothers. She not only knew how to play catch, “I could play hardball,” she laughs. Her father wrote textbooks and self-help books and demanded serious discussion at the dinner table.
“My mom was actually always a volunteer. One of my earliest memories of my mom was, in the days before they had braille machines, she used to translate textbooks into braille by hand. She was just amazing. So, not a bad example.”
After graduating from Marymount College in 1974, Anne thought about journalism but instead joined the sales force at Xerox and started at the bottom. She would marry sales manager Joe Mulcahy and have two sons: Michael, now twenty-seven, who works at Young & Rubicam, and Kevin, now twenty-three and working at Goldman Sachs.
“She started out as a buck private and worked her way up to commander in chief,” notes Charles MacCormack, CEO of Save the Children. “That’s very impressive.”
At Xerox she found a corporate culture that appealed to her. She recognized her home values there: “Very respectful, yet tough. You know, it was not all about consensus.” That same sense of spirited conversation was what she fostered when she took charge.
By the time she handed Ursula Burns the CEO reins in spring 2009 and the chairwoman title in spring 2010, Xerox was regarded as a saved revitalized company. The stock price was nowhere near the highs it had hit in the days of the 1990s high-tech frenzy, but it was stable and the company was well positioned for growth.
A New Priority
Now as chairman of Save the Children’s board of trustees, Anne is marching in with her Rolodex of contacts—and her considerable nerve. The woman who once cold-called Warren Buffett to ask for advice on saving her company is not one to feel shy about calling on the G8 conference of world leaders in June and telling them to get busy saving children.
She’s gone from worrying about quarterly reports to obsessing about the reality that 24,000 children die every day from maladies that can be prevented or treated today. She analyzed the figures on saving infants and told the world leaders: “Doubling G8 support for maternal and child health to just $4 billion a year, a tiny fraction of what wealthy nations have spent stabilizing banks, could do even more than save an additional million children and 200,000 mothers annually.”
As chairman of the board of trustees, she is not in charge of operations, deferring there to CEO Charles MacCormack and COO Carolyn Miles. But Anne departed a company with offices in 160 countries, so she has had all the immunization shots and doesn’t flinch when you talk currencies, terrorism, and abduction risks as part of the day’s agenda. She was prepared to join a respected organization that provides aid in 122 countries and has 14,000 full-time staff workers.
MacCormack thinks she’s a natural. “She’s very interested in other people,” he says, “and not every CEO is.” His voice deepening: “I won’t mention any names, but if you look at the fallout from the financial crisis and the leaders of some of the investment banks, they don’t turn out to be very admirable people.”
He brightens, adding, “When she’s talking to you, it doesn’t matter if you’re a campesino or a prime minister, you have her complete attention. I don’t think she differentiates between the high and the mighty and the community health worker. She is genuinely interested in what people have to say about their lives.”
Where the Good Goes
In a recession patrons aren’t able to reach for their checkbooks the way they used to do. Anne thinks that more people would be motivated to give if they just knew where their money was going. When Save the Children conducted a survey, it learned that people want to help, but they need something tangible to see where the good happens. Thus the nonprofit’s new drive: See Where the Good Goes. On websites like goodgoes.org and savethechildren.org, short movie clips from around the world show the headway and accomplishments of community health workers the nonprofit has placed in countries such as Mali and Azerbaijan.
“This is a campaign that allows you to get visibility to see what kind of impact you can have,” Anne says. “So you can feel that tangible connection to what this health worker can do in saving lives. It’s a wonderful campaign. Once people know more about it and how they can impact it, I think there’s a real passion for helping and making a difference.
“It is really quite an important global campaign in regard to changing the trend of newborn and early-childhood mortality. And the strategy of using health workers that can be embedded right there in the community to have an impact on these diseases that have such a material effect on the newborn survival rates. It’s a wonderful strategy and one that people can understand and feel the impact of.”
In an era when corporations feel an urgent need to be seen as “good guys,” Anne Mulchay will be there to facilitate that drive and, with luck and blankets, help some children and their families. “There is so much interest in this organization. I can’t tell you how many people have called me and said, ‘How do I get involved?’ There’s this pent-up desire—particularly with an organization like Save the Children, whose mission is for the most vulnerable—there are a lot of people who want to help. It’s one of the reasons I’m so happy about this campaign. It’s a way to channel people who have this desire into something tangible that they can do to make a difference.
“I used to think that I got a lot of e-mails every day at Xerox, but I’m telling you, the number of people who write because of Save the Children is extraordinary.”
A month into the position, Anne returned from Afghanistan, where she attended the opening of a new school in Kabul. There was a new worldliness in her voice. “As much as you read about it and study the facts and figures,” she says with a sigh, “I have to say that seeing it—and living it—Afghanistan, you see the extraordinary needs of people living in that country. It’s the worst country in the world to be born in; more than one in four children under the age of five do not make it.”
At the luncheon to celebrate the school, she was moved away from the company of men to sit with the other women. Later she visited a childhood development center and found herself sitting with three generations of one family. “The grandmother, the mother, and the small child. The desire on the part of the women adults to create a different life for their little girls is probably the most compelling aspect of what I saw there. They know that their lives will not change. It’s still quite controversial to want something for their daughters that was not within their own reach. But they have the courage. It’s the hope for the future of the country.”
The three women in Kabul might yet get a better future—that is, if Anne Mulcahy has anything to say about it.