Earlier this year at the 17th Annual EFI Worldwide Users' Conference, Jeff Jacobson made one of his first public appearances as CEO of Xerox. The inquisitive Guy Gecht, CEO of EFI, picked Jacobson’s brain about the Xerox split and the company’s future. But perhaps the most fascinating portion of the conversation was the story of Jacobson's ascension from Sun Chemical Corp’s HR office to the highest position in Xerox.

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Jeff Jacobson, Xerox CEO (right) joins EFI’s CEO, Guy Gecht (left) for a “fireside” chat

“I spent four years getting by on three hours sleep. I was working all day as the head of human resources, going to law school at night, studying until three in the morning, getting up the next morning, and doing it all over again,” the executive told a packed crowd at the Wynn Las Vegas.  

This is where Jacobson first got into the industry. “I joined a company called PolyChrome, which was a division of SunChemical Corporation ... My first 11 years I spent as a labor and employment attorney, and the head of Human Resources for the PolyChrome division.” After graduating from law school, Jacobson decided that he wanted to go practice law full time. But when Ed Barr, then CEO of SunChemical, heard about Jacobson’s decision, he couldn’t let him go. Barr told Jacobson to “just give me one year. You can go practice law anytime you want. Anyone who can do what you did in the last four years, I think he could have a good operating career.”

Jacobson obliged.

Because he was new to the business, Barr sent Jacobson to Canada to hone his skills. Taking the first flight every Monday morning, and returning home on the last plane out on Friday nights, Jacobson fell in love with the relationship building and customer elements of the job.

Jacobson landed his first CEO gig when he was summoned by the board of Kodak Polychrome Graphics to Fort Lee, New Jersey. They explained that the company was “a mess” and in a bad financial state and that “if we did a proper search for a real CEO, we could [already] be under, so you’re our person.” Jacobson joked that they said they would also pay him accordingly. He would move on to Eastman Kodak, then Presstek, before ascending the ranks of Xerox.

But enough about Jacobson — let’s talk Xerox

On the split, Jacobson noted that with when a company has two divisions, it can create too many layers. The split “de-layers” Xerox. “From myself and throughout the entire organization, we’re going to be embedded. You’re going to see me and my team traveling in cars with frontline salespeople,” said Jacobson. “It’s the commitment you make that shows you’re invested in the business so that it becomes infectious, and that’s the culture you need to build.”

The duo also discussed the future strategies. One of Jacobson’s first moves was to name PARC CEO, Steve Hoover, as CTO for the entire company. Jacobson has combined the long term research group with the shorter term research teams (described as three years of commercialization, development and engineering) and has them all reporting to Hoover as the CTO. Jacobson says “We want to expedite the commercialization process.”

And the company wants to grow, too.

“There were areas we were not investing for growth in because we were generating the cash and some of it was being invested for the services business.” The parts of the market that Xerox plays in--Jacobson estimates the segment to be 62 billion of the $85 billion in annual revenue--is trending flat to slightly down. “We’ve been the equipment revenue share market leader for the last seven years, but our market share is 22, 23 percent, which means there is still 77 percent opportunity there,” said Jacobson. “By going where we’re not today” over the next five years, like investing more into workflow automation, printed electronics, packaging, IoT and AI technologies, Jacobson believes Xerox has “a pretty healthy” five-year plan.

If you ask me, Xerox is in good hands. Not many people head departments or get law degrees, but Jacobson did both … at the same time. But it’s not just that Jacobson can be completely committed to the goals at hand, it’s also his love for the industry. “You look at Quad/Graphics, 1971, you read the story of how they developed a relationship in a snowstorm with Time Inc — that’s what this business is made of … you’re doing business with the owners of the companies, and it’s wonderful, it’s a personal commitment,“ Jacobson told Gecht. There is a natural attraction to the industry, on top of his almost fanatical motivation that paints a bright future for the company. 

Patricia Ames
Patricia Ames

is senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 10 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community. Follow her on Twitter at @OTGPublisher or contact her by email at patricia@bpomedia.com.