on May 10, 2007
Joe Wilson would likely be the first to admit that many contributed to the creation of Xerox. But he was the glue that held everyone together. Without Wilson, adoption of the technology might have been delayed by decades. Computer printers would have remained impact devices for decades longer. The laser printer might not have seen the light of day until recently.
There are so many remarkable facets to this story, that if it were a work of fiction readers might criticize the plot for being too fantastic and contrived.
First, the technical inventor, Chester Carlson, was listed as one of the richest men in America in the late 1960s by Forbes Magazine. He wrote the magazine informing them that they ranked him too high because he had donated two-thirds of his fortune away anonymously in earlier years.
His mother died as he was entering his teen years and his father had tuberculosis. Chester had to work for a living as an adolescent. Despite this, he somehow graduated from Cal Tech during the Great Depression.
Second, when Wilson's company was looking for funding he sought financial partnerships with every important office equipment company in the United States, but was turned down in every instance.
Third, IBM declined to partner with Xerox in the formative years. They hired Arthur D. Little to do a nearly year-long study of the product potential which concluded that the market size was too small at only $200 million. Later, after Xerox was an obvious success, IBM told Wilson that it should be granted an exclusive license to compete so that Xerox would not run afoul of antitrust regulations.
Fourth, during an era when the company was a shinning success, Wilson's publicity-hungry lawyer permitted Life Magazine to prominently feature a story implying he (the lawyer) was the "man behind Xerox". While this infuriated his wife, Wilson seems to have been largely silient on the transgression.
Fifth, xerography was invented during the Great Depression, in an era that was risk averse. It was brought to commercial success by a lab in Columbus, Ohio and an modest company in upstate New York. While the cities were far from being technological backwaters, neither were they the putative leaders.
The story inspired me to start a Wiki on this book.
on March 6, 2009
As a retired Xerox employee I was fascinated by the author's comprehensive description of Joe Wilson the man and corporate leader. Although I started at Xerox in 1968 near the end of Mr. Wilson's career his philosophy of treating employees fairly and with respect was continued for many years after his departure albeit at a slowly diminishing rate. The final straw was the betrayal by Paul Allair and his Henchman Richard Thoman. These scoundrels not only deceived the stockholders by falsely reporting profits but lied to employees to the bitter end of their reign resulting in serious losses for those who had faithfully invested in the company. My apologies for the diatribe but what better way to extol the virtues of the good man than to contrast them with the faults of the bad. Of all people, Joe Wilson would have been mortified at the chicanery of his unworthy successors.
Ellis does a good job of balancing his description of Mr. Wilson's many exemplary personal and business traits along with the fascinating story of the growth of Xerox. However, the book ends sadly not only because of the death of the hero but with the pointing out of his unfortunate flaw namely that of trusting too much in his successor. The company survived the many poor decisions of Peter McColough based on the strength of its technological monopoly but one can't help but wonder how great Xerox might have become had Joe Wilson been able to remain it's leader for several more years.
This notable biography recounts the remarkable story of Joe Wilson, a shy entrepreneur who overcame tremendous technological and business challenges to develop an entirely new photographic process and create the Xerox Corporation. Wilson was a powerful but quiet leader who motivated employees, family members, business associates and his community to achieve the impossible. Charles D. Ellis presents a comprehensive portrait of the man and his times, highlighting the roles of luck and perseverance. He tells how Wilson built a revolutionary machine even before he had a market and, in that process, pioneered a new technology and transformed his grandfather's small company into Xerox. The story is slow at times, but we highly recommend Ellis's inspirational business profile to those who enjoy stories of legendary business leaders and the companies they built.
on December 26, 2006
Joe Wilson led Xerox through more years of uninterrupted growth at a more rapid pace then achieved by any other company. This fact is sufficient motivation to read Charles Ellis' comprehensive and compelling story of Joe Wilson and the creation of Xerox. Most business aficionados think they know the story but this book will truly open your eyes and mind. Mr Ellis' thorough research and deft prose reveals the true leadership genius of Joe Wilson.The Xerox journey, from it's humble Haloid beginnings, through the twists and turns resulting in the introduction of the 914, reads like an adventure novel worthy of Eric Larson. The introduction of Joe Wilson to Chester Carlson, the inventor of Xerography, was just the beginning. The author provides countless examples of situations that could have derailed the success of Xerox.Examples include Homer Piper's invention of Haloid Record during the thirties. Without this milestone,Haloid would not have survived the depression and therefore Xerox would not have evolved.The author also explores how Xerox managed to avoid being acquired by the mega Corps.,once the potential of Xerox was understood.Tom Watson, IBM CEO, stated that failing to pursue the acquition of Xerox was the biggest regret of his career.It's almost a foregone conclusion that GE would have purchased Xerox if,at the time,it wasn't distracted by developing the technology for color TV.The true genius of Mr. Ellis'is his ability to bring Joe Wilson alive through the pages of this monumental work. Joe Wilson's leadership,vision,passion and creativity are a wonder to behold. His true commitment to customers,shareholders and employees are truly inspiring.Even with the technology, Xerox would never have been successful without Joe Wilson's commitment to R&D,his insight in developing his management team, his dedication to employee relations. The list could go on and on.Two other areas that are worthy of highlighting. First, the author explores Joe Wilson's dedication and unselfish service to improving the social welfare both in his community, country and globally.His undying commitment to diversity and the bold actions he initiated to bring the dream to a reality are inspiring and should serve as prime examples for present and future business leaders. Finally, the in depth profiles of all those VPs,managers,engineers, employees,suppliers, that actively and unselfishly shared Joe Wilson's vision and who turned it into a resounding success are truly a joy to read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest on what it takes to be a successful and compassionate leader in business.