Prophets in the Dark

David Kearns became chief executive officer of Xerox in 1982, a time when the company was struggling to maintain market share in the face of both domestic and foreign competition. He describes how Xerox came to be in that position, detailing Xerox’s beginnings as a corporate monopoly in xerography. The history of xerography and of Xerox (the word was invented before the company changed its name from the Haloid Company) provides useful background to Kearns’s struggle to reshape Xerox’s corporate goals and identity, so that the company would concentrate on quality rather than on growth. Kearns provides telling anecdotes about how Xerox developed a bureaucratic monopoly mentality that blocked it from adapting to a new competitive environment.

David Nadler is a corporate consultant. Although the main narrative in this book is provided in Kearns’s voice, Nadler was a key player in the remaking of Xerox, providing models of organizational change for Xerox to follow. The book’s climax is Xerox’s winning of the 1989 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, granted by Congress to companies that had made achievements in improving quality.

Kearns and Nadler provide less of a how-to book than a corporate history, but their book does provide useful lessons for other companies through its examples. The authors are careful to point out where their plans both succeeded and failed. The organizational models on which their plans were based are left somewhat vague, but the general outlines are clear. A separate section titled “Lessons,” filling about one-tenth of the volume, neatly summarizes what Kearns and Nadler believe can be learned from the Xerox experience.