The path for Xerox’s new CEO is through the mud flats, viaducts of Long Island

As he held the top job at Xerox, Steve Bandrowczak was confident he could see most of his employees in the eye with an understanding of the moment-to-moment challenges of their jobs, from the cafeteria staff to to engineers cooking up new ways of doing things in the digital domain.

That’s because Bandrowczak himself has held down similar jobs — and a few others that most at Xerox haven’t tried, from clamming the Long Island flats where he grew up for pocket money, to his first day job driving ties for the Long Island Railroad as it built high viaducts to carry its trains.

On Wednesday, Xerox made Bandrowczak permanent CEO, after he was promoted to the role on an interim basis in June following the death of his predecessor, John Visentin, who had led the company through a turbulent period.

In a prepared statement, the chairman of Xerox’s board of directors indicated that Bandrowczak has the right experience as chief operating officer under Visentin, as well as the “passion and empathy” the company wants for the top job.

“Steve has a proven track record of delivering results by leveraging digital platforms to drive market share and increase profitability,” said James Nelson, Xerox chairman, in a corporate press release. “Steve is the right leader to move Xerox forward.”

Bandrowczak said in an interview Wednesday that Visentin was a close friend, and that he originally struggled with the idea of ​​stepping into his shoes. Bandrowczak lives in Greenwich, as does Visentin.

“When John passed, it was really hard for me to think about sitting in this chair,” Bandrowczak said. “It was my wife who … said, ‘This is not about you. It is about all the blessings you have to achieve this duty; everybody, everything you learned — that you have to give back.”

Bandrowczak grew up on Long Island, working 40 hours a week while in high school at a local deli and scraping by on the side for extra money (he remembers selling them for a dollar a dozen). After graduation, he married his high school sweetheart who grew up around the corner, and took a job working for the Long Island Railroad as it raised its tracks to overhead viaducts, removed crossings that impeded traffic and caused risk of accidents.

“It made me fearless,” Bandrowczak said. “Because you can survive and because you’re able to do things like that early in your life, you know it doesn’t matter what’s thrown at you – you’re going to be fine.”

A regular on his high school honor roll, Bandrowczak didn’t consider college after graduation believing he couldn’t afford the tuition. It was Bandrowczak’s boss who suggested he enroll — and happened to have dual status as his father-in-law, combined with the suggestion of a not-so-subtle kick in the pants in booting Bandrowczak from his steady day job .

Bandrowczak enrolled at Grumman Data Systems Institute, then at Nassau County Community College, scrambling for income to make ends meet. He graduated from CW Post, now part of Long Island University, studying computer science.

His first job after college was with Sperry, an early computer innovator that would later become Unisys. He would excel, eventually rising to chief information officer at DHL.

His career intersected with Visentin’s during IBM’s spin-off of its personal computer business as Lenovo. Visentin joined HP and hired Bandrowczak as CIO for the unit he headed.

“When somebody talks to me about making sales calls, or somebody talks to me about IT, or somebody talks to me about running a factory or whatever — because in my career I’ve done things that that, I can see it from a different perspective ,” said Bandrowczak. “You get a different perspective starting with those humble roots.”

Visentin hired Bandrowczak as a lieutenant in June 2018, a month after being installed in the top job by activist investors Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason. The billionaires led a successful proxy and legal battle to prevent Xerox’s board at the time from selling the company to Fujifilm Holdings for $6 billion.

At Xerox, Visentin will attempt a controversial merger with HP, which the COVID-19 pandemic will end abruptly.

Shortly after taking the top job, Visentin and Bandrowczak put together a restructuring plan called “Project Own It” to simplify Xerox, which included outsourcing elements of its office operations, layoffs, and decisions not to replace people who leave on their own initiative. Xerox entered this year with more than 23,000 employees, about 12,000 fewer than at the end of 2017.

Bandrowczak said he and Visentin both shared a vision for Xerox as “an iconic brand that needed to be saved” in his words. Best known for its office copiers and printers, Xerox also made several innovations that enabled the information age, including the graphic user interface and desktop mouse that helped popularize Apple and Microsoft Windows; and Ethernet to link computers.

“When John called me, it was more than a job — it was a passion for making this company a great US icon [and] tech giant again,” said Bandrowczak. “What we’ve been doing for the last four years is taking all the great assets — people, intellectual property, the things we do — and now driving that into the next generation of Xerox to make it a great technology company.”

As an example of how Xerox is branching out from its roots in printing and document management systems, Bandrowczak pointed to CareAR, a unit that works with ServiceNow to develop augmented and virtual reality systems for the fields technicians and other service workers.

By chance, Bandrowczak happened to bus tables at the same Long Island restaurant as ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott, who grew up in the same town. McDermott would spend 17 years with Xerox himself, then became president of what is now Stamford-based Gartner before becoming CEO of SAP, then ServiceNow.

For Bandrowczak, this is his first go-round in the CEO chair — but he inherits Xerox’s enviable resources including the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and massive development campus outside Rochester, NY

“If you think about it, paper is not ‘paper’ but data and information,” said Bandrowczak. “How do we take top trending technologies — like artificial intelligence, like augmented reality, like virtual reality — and create new solutions in and around that data?”

Includes earlier reporting by Luther Turmelle.

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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