From Centerfield to Center Stage: Thoughts on Staying Relevant in an Evolving World

by Bob Wagner, Xerox Public Relations

The night was June 17, 2010. One of my idols, former New York Yankee great turned jazz guitarist Bernie Williams, played the headline concert at the annual Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. As someone who counts the Yankees, smooth jazz and my work here at Xerox among my life’s passions, I was loving just being there. But on this night I also had the honor of introducing the legendary number-51 to an adoring Rochester audience and—as a concert “insider”—the pleasure of talking a little jazz and baseball backstage with Bernie.  As you might imagine, it was one of the best nights of my life. Bernie was very approachable, a real gentlemen and quite an act—figuratively and literally.

Bernie’s remarkable journey from center field to center stage got me thinking of the great transformation so many global businesses are undertaking these days—including Xerox’s move to a services-led, technology-driven enterprise.  How many companies can transform themselves as seamlessly and as elegantly as number-51?  Very few, I dare say.  Fortunately for us at Xerox, while many companies talk about transformation, Xerox has actually done it—as our Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns likes to remind us.

Ursula recently talked with National Public Radio (NPR) about the imperative to transform.  She said, “The world is changing. We all know this. And as that world changes, if you don’t transform your company, you’re stuck. Even if you could figure out a way to be profitable and reasonably successful, I think you would be under-using your assets if you don’t figure out a way to become more relevant as the world transforms and evolves.”

Well, Bernie really figured out a way to transform and evolve. Such transformations—whether by individuals or businesses—require exceedingly deliberate hard work. When you watch highlights of Bernie patrolling the old Yankee Stadium centerfield for 16 seasons—or YouTube videos of him playing guitar—he makes it look easy—so effortless. Well, that’s because he’s invested thousands of hours honing his craft—as a baseball player and as a musician.

But unlike Bernie’s asymmetrical move from sports to music, Ursula describes our shift to providing services as relatively easy, “Because we didn’t have to go from making food to making airplanes. It was pretty close; it was in our neighborhood.” Now, says Ursula, our people must remain “flexible, fearless and impatient.” She tells us, “If you’re not changing, you’re falling behind. If you’re doing the same things you were doing three years ago, then you’re not evolving.”  That is, you’re not staying relevant as the world around you evolves.

So, while I really miss the old Bernie, I absolutely love the new one. As in business, it’s about changing, growing and moving forward. Bern, baby, Bern!

Blue Note: The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival runs until June 30.  Among the big names slated for this week are Daryl Hall, Nora Jones and Steve Martin who, now that I think of it, isn’t too shabby himself when it comes to transformation.

Bob Wagner’s head of global communications for the Xerox Technology Business.  He loves to share his knowledge and share his network to help others succeed.  Well, except for the Boston Red Sox, that is.

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