Helping out the big X

In the late 1970s, Xerox Corporation "was attacked by offshore companies," recalls William R. Ernisse '71. Suddenly, the company that created the photocopier faced an unprecedented threat to its existence.

Xerox responded with its revolutionary 10 Series copier line, winning back market share with reliable, customer-friendly products. It was a pivotal moment for the company and for Bill Ernisse.

"I was proud to be part of that," says Ernisse, now vice president of sales operations and marketing for the Western Sales Operations of Xerox in Santa Ana, Calif. It was the first time Ernisse helped rebuild the company — but not the last. The corporate giant's missteps are as well-documented as its tremendous technological achievements. The challenges translated into opportunities for Bill Ernisse.

"I first met Bill in 1972 on the 25th floor of Xerox Square," says Dick Leo, vice president, Xerox Global Services. "Both Bill and I were just beginning our careers at Xerox. In those early days Bill impressed me with his 'can-do' attitude. No challenge was too great for Bill. He also had an instinct to direct his energy toward our customers and the people in the field that worked with our customers. These days Bill is one of our most accomplished field generals whose judgment is widely respected."

A Rochester native, Ernisse majored in business administration at RIT and went to work for Xerox in 1970 on a co-op job. "I didn't even know what Xerox did when I started," he quips. It's his way of saying that he was young and had lots to learn.

"What RIT provided in terms of the technical aspect, co-op and academics, is just so useful," he says. Xerox has long turned to RIT for well-prepared graduates. The company is the second-largest employer of RIT alumni, with more than 2,000 currently on the payroll. (Eastman Kodak Co. employs nearly 4,000 RIT grads.)

Ernisse says the RIT connection enhances working relationships with alumni and non-alumni within the company. "When you're 3,000 miles away and you need to interface with people (at Xerox facilities) in Rochester, it's a great ice breaker to say you went to RIT."

Ernisse began his career with Xerox as a financial analyst. The company sent him to Florida as a sales rep in 1973, beginning a series of moves from Florida to Rochester until 1984 when he moved to the West Coast. Since then he has held a number of key management positions, including vice president of worldwide training and vice president of field operations for Xerox's Western area. Prior to his current position, he served as vice president and general manager of Xerox of Greater Los Angeles Customer Business Unit.

Today, Ernisse's organization is responsible for sales operations from the Midwest states south to Texas and west to Alaska and Hawaii. It represents multi-billions in annual revenue.

"We're charged with growing that," he says, "and with ensuring customer satisfaction." He helps lead a sales force of more than 1,000. The competition is the toughest it has ever been. It's a daunting, awesome responsibility, of course, but those aren't words Ernisse uses. What he says is, "It's really fun, trying to put the strategies together and win."

That sort of enthusiasm helped Ernisse earn in 1990 the company's top achievement award, the President's Award. Ernisse was one of 15 winners worldwide. He has won other top awards from the American Society of Training Development and the National Society for Performance and Instruction.

What's next for Xerox? The self-monikered "Document Company" is positioned to be a leader in the business of "the blending of hard copy and the digital world," says Ernisse. Companies face an increasing need to send and retrieve information instantly and store it indefinitely. There's a potentially huge market for efficient, inexpensive, easy-to-use, reliable products that can convert hard copy into digital information. Ernisse believes Xerox has a major advantage, because "we know more about the document and can do more than any company.

"We have the best software and services for the job," he says. "That's really where we're going to go."

The University Magazine, Fall 2002