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Engineering with a laser-like focus

A 35mm camera received as a gift while in junior high helped kick-start Len Parker’s career path-a path that ultimately led to a top position at Xerox Corp.
The gift allowed Parker to marry his two great loves: nature and science. With it he was able to photograph flowers blooming and the sun setting, and study the internal workings of the camera and its film.
In addition to the leisure time enjoyment, the camera helped him choose a field to study.
“Luckily, my earlier decisions led to employment,” Parker says.
Parker has honed his skills over the years and has stepped into a top role at Xerox, where he has worked for the past 26 years.
The 52-year-old in January took the job of vice president and chief engineer at Xerox, succeeding Sophie Vandebroek, who was named the company’s chief technology officer. He oversees some 200 employees in Rochester and California.
Parker was most recently the company’s vice president and chief technology officer of the Production Systems Group in California.
In his new role, Parker is in charge of the company’s engineering center, intellectual property operations and its DocuShare software business.
It is also up to Parker to ensure the company has the tools, processes and engineering competencies in place so a new product can come to fruition.
The job matches his personality perfectly, Parker says.
“The assortment of responsibilities plays to my methodical, organized side, but other parts of the job spark my creativity,” he says.
Parker is known for his innovative thinking, his colleagues say.
That led the teenager to Rochester Institute of Technology, which was known for its cutting-edge programs. He sent out one college application-to RIT.
“It was the only place I was interested in going,” Parker says.
Upon arriving, Parker knew he would be doing some serious studying when, at orientation, the head of the department told the group of some 50 freshmen that only seven of them would graduate.
“I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of spare time,” Parker says, adding he kind of “went underground” after that, focusing on his studies.
During his undergraduate years at RIT, Parker’s interest in digital technology grew and he decided to continue graduate studies in that area.
Parker earned a bachelor of science degree in photographic science and a master of science degree in printing technology from RIT in the mid-1970s.

Going west

After graduation, he headed west, where he interviewed at schools in California for his doctorate.
While staying with a college friend there, he made contact with another RIT grad who was scheduled to present a paper in San Diego. Parker went along and, while there, found a job posting for a laser optics and systems designer in Santa Monica.
Parker was intrigued but conflicted since he was in California to pursue his education. He did not grapple with the issue for long.
“I thought, do I want to enroll in a Ph.D. program and continue to pay for my education or do I want to start earning money and live in Santa Monica?” Parker says.
He joined United Detector Technology Inc., where his job included customizing companies’ system designs. One client was Xerox, which later offered him jobs at the company’s El Segundo and Pasadena sites.
Parker took the job in Pasadena working in the electro-optics systems group and quickly became involved in the work going on there, including working on technology with NASA.
“We were bouncing lasers off the San Ga-briel Mountains and working on technology for space programs,” Parker says. “It was exciting.”

The laser guy

Since joining the document company in 1980, Parker helped Xerox commercialize laser printing and drove early network and laser printing innovations working with the company’s Palo Alto Research Center.
Dubbed by colleagues as the “laser guy,” Parker holds solid-state laser patents in conjunction with the research center.
He spent 25 years on the West Coast and has held leadership positions at Xerox in the imaging and scanning center, corporate quality and product assurance, print-controller development and program management in the desktop printing unit.
His positions while rising up the ranks at the document company included vice president and general manager of the SOHO inkjet multifunction business unit in Palo Alto, vice president and general manager of the Xerox Office Solutions and Software Business Unit, and chief technology officer of the Xerox Global Services Group.
He enjoyed all his positions, he says, and speaks enthusiastically of working in quality and product assurance in the early 1990s.
As part of his duties there, Parker would visit Xerox locations worldwide. At each destination he would complete what he describes as a “three-day deep dive,” assessing the location’s product development initiatives.
After an initial assessment, Parker would assemble a team of employees-ranging from 12 to 30 staffers-to further work on the review.
The job showed him the workings of Xerox from soup to nuts, Parker says.
It was a tremendous learning experience,” he says. “No one in the company at that time, including the CEO, had that much direct exposure to what was going on at Xerox.”
The job helped Parker refine his public speaking skills.
“Here I was, this guy from Rotterdam Junction, a 600-person village (near Schenectady), standing up in front of company leaders,” Parker says.
He also learned to ask pointed questions during his brief stays at company locales and then be able to clear his mind of one place before moving on to the next.
“I became the master of the one-week memory,” he said.
Ursula Burns, president of Xerox’s Business Group Operations and corporate senior vice president, says Parker is well-prepared for his new role at Xerox.
“He made it through the engineering ranks,” Burns says.
In addition to his experience and career path, Burns says Parker also has established credibility at the company.
She describes him as a doer.
“He doesn’t conform and isn’t afraid to stick his neck out and try new things,” says Burns, who also owns a reputation as a direct and hard-charging executive.
His fearlessness was evident when he worked as chief technology officer for Xerox’s Product Systems Group and provided valuable insight-from both technical and marketing standpoints-which helped the company, she says.
Parker says he has always taken risks. After a two-year stint in quality and product assurance, he took a top position at the company’s former channels division in Palo Alto.
The job was a good career opportunity and chance to “kick him out of his comfort zone,” he says. Due to some downsizing at the company, however, the division shut down.
Parker lobbied to tell the employees there what was happening well before the doors closed. It was a decision that paid off, he says, noting that not a single employee left before the division closed and during that time it was business as usual with new products launched on time.
Parker then went to El Segundo where he worked under Anne Mulcahy-now Xerox president and CEO-who was then president of Xerox’s General Markets Operations. The group created and sold products for reseller, dealer and retail channels.
Parker was general manager of software and controller operations and led a drive to transition to a platform approach for the company’s laser printer products that would improve capabilities with a minimal funding increase.
The group received a funding increase after Parker’s pitch to management and underwent a six-month reorganization of its technology, people and processes. During that time, the group launched five products worldwide.

Top engineer

When the opportunity came up for his current position, Parker was eager to take on the new role.
“There are so many things I’m excited about, 24 hours in a day isn’t enough,” Parker says. “I want to do a lot.”
Less than two months after beginning the job, Parker still had several filled cardboard boxes sitting on his office floor. The operation is at top-notch performance, thanks to Vandebroek, he says.
He may still be settling in, but Parker does have some personal touches added to his office.
Family photos already were displayed and on the wall there are several framed photographs Parker took on a snowy-day excursion to Mendon Ponds Park.
His interest in space, which developed when he began his career at Xerox, is also evident with a pictorial tribute to the Challenger disaster hanging on one of the walls. He also keeps in contact with NASA executives on a professional basis.
Books in his office cover topics ranging from statistics to an autobiography of Jimmy Buffet.
Don Quant, who retired from Xerox in 1999, met Parker at Xerox in the early 1980s.
“I quickly spotted him as a really good guy,” Quant says.
The two became friends and have remained so over the years. Quant praised many of Parker’s abilities.
“In addition to being a really smart guy and a really good guy, he is a tremendous athlete,” Quant says.
Quant, who was based in Webster for Xerox, says the two would go running or swimming at lunchtime when he was on the West Coast.
“We would run a good four miles,” says Quant, noting that although he is 15 years Parker’s senior, he still likes to exercise but was no match for his colleague. “He would just take off.”
Parker’s childhood love of the outdoors continues today. He enjoys bicycling and used to teach mountaineering for the Sierra Club.
One benefit of living on the East Coast is that Parker has time to hit the gym in the early morning-around 5:30 a.m.-before going to the office. When he worked in California it was harder to do this since his early-morning conference calls were often with company leaders already at work in the Eastern time zone.
Parker tries to leave the office around 6 p.m. to have dinner at his home in Pittsford. Today’s technology also allows him to work more non-traditional hours and even gives him the chance to attend his 7-year-old son Dylan’s school functions.
And although he moved across the country, Parker says the transition has been a relatively smooth one.
“My son came home the first day of school and went over to our neighbor’s where there was a plate of cookies and a pool,” Parker says with a laugh. “He settled right in.”
(adeckert@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

04/07/06 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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