Yin & yang

The story of two CEOs — published this week — who couldn’t be more different:1) Worldcom’s Bernard Ebbers

Former WorldCom Inc. Chief Bernard J. Ebbers and top managers, aided by numerous employees, conspired together beginning in the late 1990s to carry out massive and systematic fraud at the company, according to two external investigations.

The long-awaited reports, released Monday, conclude that WorldCom’s management worked to falsify financial results in increasingly desperate bids to keep its sagging fortunes concealed from investors.

If the conclusions of the reports are substantiated, both would provide a potential road map for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against other employees, particularly Mr. Ebbers, WorldCom’s founder and longtime chief.

2) Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy

Moments before Anne Mulcahy’s annual meeting began, one of her board members did something that rarely, if ever, happened during the endless business inferno at Xerox. Something that three years of debt downgrades, sunrise conference calls with the auditors, missed Junior High ball games, constant layoffs, and always, always, the threat of bankruptcy had not done: He made Mulcahy cry.

The director was John Pepper, former CEO of Procter & Gamble. “I never thought I would be proud to have my name associated with this company again,” he told her. “I was wrong.”

Mulcahy has qualities missing in so many CEOs. She is straightforward, hard-working, disciplined. She is fiercely loyal to Xerox–the company, the brand, the people. She has the integrity of the Catholic schoolgirl she was for 16 years. Her co-workers describe her as both compassionate and tough. She is not afraid of bad news. Her willingness to work shoulder to shoulder with subordinates gives her unusual credibility and the ability to galvanize her team.

“There is something about resilience,” she says. “The ability to address issues, to keep brands and heritages and jobs in place. I keep hoping that’s the story that will emerge here. If this company becomes great again, that’s a good story.”

Character still counts.

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