From conducting "dreaming sessions" with customers to hiring a high school student to run errands, Xerox executive Sophie Vandebroek shared professional and personal insights into leadership and technology at a talk Nov. 15.
"You have to create an environment where the researchers and the scientists and all the people working with you have fun," said Vandebroek, Xerox's chief technology officer, as she outlined five basic principles that guide her work and personal interactions.
"It's all about making someone passionate because only if you're passionate do you do really great work."
Her talk, "Xerox Innovation," was part of the "Leadership in a Technological World," lecture series sponsored by Princeton's Center for Innovation in Engineering Education and underwritten by the William Pierson Field Lectureship fund.
In addition to creating an inspiring environment, Vandebroek said she focuses on hiring the best and most diverse group of people and building strong working relationships within the company; listening to customers; supporting open innovation and partnering with outside companies with strong ideas; and looking for opportunity even in the worst of situations.
The principles have all been important as Xerox has executed one of the most dramatic corporate turn-arounds in recent history. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 when its current chief executive Anne Mulcahy (who delivered a previous address in the same lecture series) took over. Refocusing its products and level of innovation, the company quickly returned to profitability, going from a loss of $400 million per year to a net income of $1.2 billion. In the last two years, the company refreshed 95 percent of its product line, Vandebroek said.