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June 01, 2005

Where Have All the Xeroids Gone?

I talked to my boy Marty this long weekend. He runs part of the facilities department over at Xerox El Segundo. His was a tale of woe. I owe a lot of my professional development to the management style of Xerox - continuous quality improvement and all. So it was hard for me to hear what he had to say.

I started my first internship for the Big X back in 1983, my first summer in college. Since I had some real-world work experience, I was fortunate enough to land a spot with the MBA candidates and worked in the Centralized Printing Systems Division several levels beneath the legendary Hoshi Printer. Yes, Printer was his last name. Last time I checked, he was making moola at Cars.com. So I had seven years of Xerox on my resume by 1990 when I went full-time into the software business.

About that time, Xerox had proven two things. Number one, it was master of the copier and printer business. Number two, it didn't know squat about the computer, software and networks business. Xerox stock limped along in the low 20s for my entire career there and its employee count was about 100,000. Here in El Segundo, where we used to actually sweat about being a target of Russian nukes, there was a vigorous set of employees of Xerox. The legendary A&E building housed first rate engineers and brown shuttle vans took folks around the campus of about 18 buildings. I myself had worked in CP-8, CP-10, XC-1 and XC-2. I sometimes had lunch in one of the 'M' buildings, the big M1 cafeteria. As an intern, I toured through M2 where some of America's first 'surface mount' technology was being deployed for Xerox printer circuit boards.

Marty says that there are about 60k people who work for Xerox now. A&E is down to about 600 employees and only two of the eight M buildings still even belong to Xerox. Over in Xerox Centre, office space had been empty so long that Xerox was renting to all comers for as little as 1.50 per square foot. The boom days of El Segundo are long gone.

Today, Lexmark printers are no joke. HP dominates the 'decentralized' print world. Warnock made Adobe and all the rest is history. But it remains stunning to me that these very buildings, the whole of the Xerox campus has been so drastically reduced. Where have they gone? How long are those who are left going to stay?

It's all design work, so I've been told. It's what we do best in the US, come up with new ideas and figure out ways to sell them. But I miss the days of end to end, where you could be on campus and know you were 10,000 stong. Where the spirit of a company pulling together, from design to test to manufacturing to sales and marketing distribution and support were all in walking distance. The virtual corporation is real. We in IT and our crafty MBAs made it possible. Now El Segundo is less than it used to be.

I wonder what's going on at Northrop.

Posted by mbowen at June 1, 2005 07:47 AM

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As a member of the ex-Xeroid diaspora, I can attest to the dwindling of the giant in Canada too. Frankly, I'm surprised it's still standing. Xerox, via PARC, knew about computers, but not enough about marketing them. Or at least they lacked the will to do so. That was my one beef with that whole Quality mantra, that it semmed to focus so much on how to improve what you've got, "continuous improvement," vs how to be a solutions mill (continuous solutions).

Mind you, I guess Q-school was a necessity by the 80s after the Japanese stormed in and swiped marketshare by the truckload. But after surviving that, they had umpteen opportunities to build on the remaining non-copying-related patents they had and/or buy into the emerging technologies of the day. Gamble a little. But no. They were complacent with copying their own tired paradigms. And you know what happens to copies of copies...

Posted by: memer [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2005 10:28 AM