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Published: February 28, 2007

 
 

Books in Brief

A world-changing entrepreneur, capitalist families, inspiring CFOs, and wise advisors.


Joe Wilson and the Creation of Xerox
By Charles D. Ellis
Wiley, 2006
414 pages, $27.95

Photograph by Opto
Ann Mulcahy, Xerox’s current CEO, writes in her foreword to Joe Wilson and the Creation of Xerox that although she never met the charismatic Joe Wilson, she learned three important lessons from him: Invest in innovation, even when you can’t afford to; recognize the importance of values; and understand that the genius of any organization rests in the hearts and minds of its people. These lessons and many others are ably illustrated by strategy consultant Charles D. Ellis in his biography of the leader who acted as midwife in the long, painful birth of the dry-copying process that came to be known as xerography.

When the shy, intellectual Joe Wilson graduated from Harvard Business School to join the Haloid Company — his family’s firm — in the depths of the Depression, it was a small, me-too seller of photographic paper products based in Rochester, N.Y., in the shadow of its much larger rival, Kodak. Wilson realized that the firm needed new products, but it would take a chance reading of a research abstract in 1945 by one of his colleagues to direct him to the work of Chester Carlson, the inventor of xerography, and to the Battelle Memorial Institute, which had undertaken the development of Carlson’s patents. It would take another 15 years or so before Haloid, now renamed Xerox, would launch the 914, the world’s first plain-paper copier.

During xerography’s long gestation, Joe Wilson played the role of visionary, strategist, and assembler of organizations. What strikes one most is his unshakable faith that xerography’s potential would be realized. As late as 1958, a market study by the respected technology consulting firm Arthur D. Little suggested that the 914 was far too costly to compete with products already on the market, and as a result IBM turned down the opportunity to license and market it. By 1961, however, the machine, which cost $2,500 to make, had changed America’s office habits; each installation generated a rental stream that averaged $4,000 a year.

Throughout his career, Joe Wilson displayed a constant interest in people. His preoccupation with humanitarian causes stemmed from a deep concern for the role of the corporation in society. By the time he died in 1971, Xerox was one of the greatest business success stories of all time. It was perhaps fortunate that he did not live to see the subsequent squandering of corporate resources by the managers who succeeded him and the shameful events of the late 1990s, as Xerox came close to bankruptcy in the wake of a financial scandal. When, in 2001, Ann Mulcahy accepted the challenge of turning Xerox around, she reached for the values that Joe Wilson had first instilled in the company.
 


Family Capitalism: Wendels, Haniels, Falcks, and the Continental European Model
By Harold James
Belknap Harvard, 2006
446 pages, $39.95

Family businesses and their intertwinements with European states and markets are examined in Family Capitalism: Wendels, Haniels, Falcks, and the Continental European Model, by Harold James, professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University. The author compares and contrasts the development of three family businesses, one French (Wendel), one German (Haniel), and one Italian (Falck), from their origins in the late 18th century to the present day. For the first 150 years of this era, coal, iron, and steel formed the backbone of national economies as well as military power, and these families were at the nexus of business and politics. The Wendel family, in particular, with its major operations situated in Lorraine, found their business tossed back and forth between France and Germany six times between 1870 and 1945!

 
 
 
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