If you thought cloud, mobile, social and big data were the major catalysts for business transformation these days, then there’s something in your blind spot — activist investors.
Activist investors look for what they perceive as underperforming companies and buy large enough stakes in them to force changes in policy or management.
Elliott Management did this with both EMC (prompting the sale to Dell) and Citrix (result: sell off GoTo businesses, force the resignation of CEO Mark Templeton and guide the selection of new CEO Kirill Tatarinov).
Billionaire Carl Icahn pushed for eBay to divest itself of PayPal.
Today Icahn is expected to prompt the end of Xerox as we know it.
2 Is Better than 1?
In November and December, Icahn increased his stake in Norwalk, Conn.-based Xerox to 8.13 percent, according to documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Now multiple published reports claim Icahn is using that muscle to prompt Xerox to split the company into two entities: One for products, the other for services.
He’s also arranged for himself to get three seats on the board of Xerox’s Services Business, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
Xerox executives are expected to reveal the plan this morning during a fourth quarter earnings conference, where it is also forecast to announce its fourth straight year of declining profits and sales.
Xerox has a market cap of $9.34 billion — around half of its estimated annual sales.
The company’s document technology (product) revenues are shrinking as a percentage of gross sales while its services business revenues (which was minimal before it acquired Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) in 2009) are growing.
Xerox’s products include office printers, multi-function and all in one printers, scanners, production printers and digital presses, continuous and wide format printers and more. The company also sells software for document-centric tasks like workflow.
Its Services businesses helps companies with transaction processing by streamlining things like insurance claims debit card swipes, benefits distribution and payroll, as well as legal and e-Discovery Services for managing volumes of electronic data and imaging and analytics and end-to-end accounting and procurement on behalf of clients.
According to CompTIA’s 2016 IT Industry Outlook, the IT services category is projected to grow 7 percent in 2016, the fastest rate of any tech category. Hardware, in contrast, is only expected to grow 3.5 percent.
Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of CompTIA, a nonprofit association for the tech industry, said hardware companies "must forego their familiar practices to assist with the cloud services that their business partners need."
Isn’t It Ichanic
It’s somewhat ironic that Xerox got into the services business so that it wasn’t so dependent on products. The ACS acquisition was supposed to be, to use CEO Ursula Burns’ word, “transformational.”
But even taking activist investors out of the equation, more companies are finding less is more: In November, Hewlett Packard started a new era as two entities: HP Enterprise and HP Inc.
Now there's Xerox, which has already has a history of reinventing itself.
At least as much as IBM, Apple, HP and a now-forgotten company called DEC, Xerox is responsible for the ideas that gave rise to the modern digital office.
In the early 1980s, at a gleaming, video-wall-lined walk-in display in Dallas — literally tucked inside a replica of Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace — Xerox once operated a full-time exhibit of what it projected as the office of the future.
In it, network cables connecting high-speed consoles at megabit speeds, were tucked away beneath barely visible speed bumps in the carpet.
It was a real-time, hands-on demonstration of Ethernet, shuttling the contents of photocopied documents from office to office, using a graphic display and a mouse — something else created at the laboratories of Xerox PARC in Palo Alto.
At a time when computers were only projected to get bigger as their processors got smaller, Xerox boldly displayed computing power as projected throughout an office, inhabiting the same floor as the people who used it.
But a full-time Futurama could not sell Xerox to the public at a time when offices were just then being introduced to “IBM compatibility.” In fact, for the past three decades, Xerox has defined itself by its ceaseless ability to redefine itself.
Xerox underwent complete corporate re-organizations in 1983, 1992, 1995 (splitting into three divisions), 1997 (splitting again into five divisions), 2005 (dropping the phrase “services company” as a corporate strategy), 2010 (acquiring a services company as a corporate strategy), and 2014 (selling the services division as a corporate strategy).
For a company that once owned the future, it never found a way to capitalize on that knowledge.
Once again, it finds itself scrambling for the product or service or ideal that the public will appreciate as its Second Act, after the “Xerox machine.”