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This leader works on Xerox’s front line

 

The business equipment industry has been changing rapidly, with companies such as Xerox Corp. transitioning from equipment suppliers to full-scale product and service providers.

It is a change Michael Zimmer is intimately familiar with.

Zimmer, 49, is senior vice president of industry and account operations at Xerox. Based in Rochester, he works with some of Xerox’s largest customers and leads the company’s transition from hardware manufacturer to services provider, meeting the increased demands of customers.

The operation he oversees has roughly 6,000 employees, including sales executives and those who work at on-site customer operations throughout the country, responsible for selling to many more thousands of clients.

Zimmer thrives on visiting customer sites and interacting with other Xerox workers.

"I love having my pulse on the business and seeing the front line in action," he says.

With a knack for problem solving and natural abilities in math and science, Zimmer, a Rochester-area native, decided to pursue a degree in civil engineering after graduating from Aquinas Institute.

During his studies, however, he found himself wanting to move into an area that would be more exciting and engaging, rather than just approaching things from technical and mathematical aspects. He earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering at the University of Dayton in Ohio in 1982 and then took a marketing position with Caterpillar Inc., a manufacturer of construction and mining equipment. The move played to his love of the outdoors.

While there, Zimmer befriended some co-workers involved in direct sales. Shortly after, he was doing the same.

"I figured if they could do it, I could do it," he says.

Zimmer joined Xerox in 1983 as a sales representative in Columbus, Ohio, and quickly rose through the ranks, holding various sales and management positions.

During 27 years at Xerox, he has held a variety of senior leadership positions, including vice president for the mid-Atlantic region, vice president and national sales manager, vice president of North American tele-sales and senior vice president of the public-sector sales operations. He also graduated from the Harvard Advanced Management Program.

Despite his growing responsibilities at Xerox, Zimmer says his focus has remained the same.

"My heart is still with the customer," he says.

Changing relationship

His goal is to change the relationship from vendor to on-site partner, working with customers to create efficiencies.

"We aren’t there to just sell a piece of equipment," Zimmer says. "It’s about learning the business, not just selling equipment."

Zimmer has two types of days, depending on whether he is traveling-which he does weekly-or not. When on the road, Zimmer gets to his destination the night before he needs to be there, often having dinner with Xerox senior leaders and catching up on the operations in the area. That is followed by breakfast with one of his top performers, during which the employee has a chance for a one-on-one with Zimmer, who in turn gains a sense of his future leaders.

He spends roughly an hour at 8 a.m. leading a roundtable with 10 to 20 employees, mostly listening. Interacting with his staff and customers is the best part of the job, Zimmer says.

"My greatest learning comes from traveling," he says, describing his trips to meet customers as relaxing and fun.

Business is particularly exciting now because of the recent acquisition of Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., which gives Xerox personnel more products and services to help customers, Zimmer says. Xerox announced it had completed the acquisition of ACS, a business-process outsourcing firm, in a $6.4 billion cash and stock deal in February.

John Kelly, president of Xerox Global Services North America, says Zimmer is able to marry two somewhat different traits: strong customer relations skills and an analytical approach to business.

Kelly also describes Zimmer as a good leader, noting that people enjoy working for him and that he often acts as a coach and motivator.

Zimmer values diverse thinking, believing it brings out the best decisions.

"I like debate and conflict," he says. "I like to hear all views."

As for his leadership style, Zimmer says he steers his employees in the right direction and tries to be someone who empowers them but ultimately wants them to make their own decisions.

The worst part of the job, he says, is unproductive meetings, being internally focused, and the flight delays and cancellations that cause him to spend more time than necessary in airports.

When he is in Rochester, Zimmer spends the bulk of his time working on programs that will help customers. His days involve meetings with upper-level executives.

Zimmer points out individuals he considers role models. They include Anne Mulcahy, Xerox’s soon-to-retire chairman and former CEO, whom Zimmer described as a great communicator who was approachable and put a tremendous focus on Xerox employees and customers.

"Whether you’re an analyst, a customer or a (Xerox) new hire, she makes you feel special," he says.

Another role model is Xerox CEO Ursula Burns. Although she works closely with Mulcahy, the two have different leadership styles. Zimmer recently was impressed with the courage and conviction Burns showed with the ACS acquisition, which occurred not long after she took the company reins.

"I think people will look back and say that was one of the great decisions our company has made," Zimmer says.

Family and business

He calls his late father, Gene Zimmer, another business mentor. The elder Zimmer, who also had an engineering background, served as director of marketing at ABB Instrumentation Inc., formerly Taylor Instruments. Zimmer says his dad knew how to mix family and business.

"You can’t turn off work when you have this type of responsibility, and you can’t turn family off," Zimmer says, noting that his family often visits him at the office and attends Xerox functions. "To do so would drive one schizophrenic, so you have to blend them together."

His 29th-floor corner office at Xerox Square downtown reflects both of his worlds. There are family pictures of his father, his wife of 20 years, Jeannine, and their children, Jake, 15, and Nikki, 9. Those are mixed with drawings from his children and items picked up from travels for work, such as a University of Maryland Terrapins championship basketball and a picture of himself with Father Leo Donovan, president emeritus and professor of theology at Georgetown University and a Xerox customer-along with various professional awards.

Competitive person

Gregory Connors, an attorney and founding partner of Connors & Ferris LLP, met Zimmer a half-dozen years ago through mutual friends. Zimmer helped connect Connors with Xerox employees who could outfit his firm’s Rochester and Buffalo offices with Xerox equipment. The two have remained friends and lived near each other in Pittsford at one time.

Connors describes Zimmer as an intense competitor and a positive person.

"Professionally, Mike is competitive, but he does it in a nice way," Connors says. "He motivates others."

Connors also says Zimmer possesses the quality of genuineness, something Connors attributes to born-and-bred Rochesterians generally.

Zimmer, who is 10 years older than Connors, has become a sort of professional role model to Connors, who often questions him about management and leadership styles.

"Mike is very unassuming," Connors says. "You can tell he’s successful, but he isn’t ‘braggadocious’ about it. He’s a really nice guy who is very proud of Xerox."

He adds that off the job, Zimmer and his wife are devoted parents who believe in teaching their children about values and the importance of hard work.

When not working, Zimmer enjoys renovating the 60-year-old home he and his family recently moved into in the city. Zimmer has laid tile and done some electrical and plumbing work.

He also has taken up bow hunting with his son and plays the family’s Steinway piano, a skill he learned when his parents encouraged him to take lessons. His children also play the piano.

A fan of the outdoors, Zimmer enjoys golf and tennis and spending time at the family’s vacation home in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Moving forward, Zimmer says, his focus is on helping Xerox customers improve efficiency while keeping an eye on their expenses. He is vigilant about his role and points to a framed picture depicting a warrior going into battle. That picture reminds him of his duties.

"You can’t be in a sales role without a little fight in you," Zimmer says.

Michael Zimmer
Position: Senior vice president, industry and account operations, Xerox Corp.
Age: 49
Education: B.S. in civil engineering, University of Dayton, Ohio, 1982
Family: Wife Jeannine; son Jake, 15, and daughter Nikki, 9
Residence: Rochester
Activities: playing golf, playing piano, bow hunting with son, fixing up houses
Quote: "You can’t be in a sales role without a little fight in you."
 

4/2/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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