By Sherry M. Adler, freelance writer
Careers don’t always follow a logical path. More often than not, your career is defined by change: The changes on the world stage, the changes in your company’s direction, as well as the change in yourself. Change is how things move.
From Moscow in Russia to progressively more responsible positions around the world, Irina Maslennikova has been on the move. Did she plan it?
“I didn’t! I took the opportunities. Then one thing led to another,” she says. Our vice president and general manager of the Latin American region in the Xerox Technology business answers questions about her journey, her “to do” list, and the best way forward.
Q. You have a doctorate in Environmental Science from the University of Moscow. Why did you pursue a career at Xerox?
A. My career at Xerox occurred accidentally. I was working in Russia in my professional field for the United Nations (U.N.) Environmental Program. Then the Soviet Union dissolved and the state-controlled economic system collapsed. So, as many other people did, I sent my CV to the only headhunting agency in Moscow at the time. Xerox was the first to interview me. That was about 25 years ago. In my roles at the company, I keep coming back to my professional background. For example, I often talk about the Xerox approach to sustainability to our customers and other stakeholders.
Q. What jobs have you held at the company?
A. I started at Xerox at “square one,” as an assistant to the general manager in Russia. It was humbling after managing projects for the U.N.; however, the job enabled me to learn and grow. My boss sent me on a trip to the Xerox Europe headquarters in England. While there, I learned the company wanted to build an environmental network. I was invited to apply for a spot; luckily, I was the best candidate.
So off I went with my family ─ husband and two young daughters ─ to the U.K., where I worked as an environmental manager. This position got me involved in the core business. First, I supported bids and tenders; next, I became operational excellence manager for our Public Sector Operations group; then I served in business development for Concessionaire Operations. My Xerox Europe years spanned 1994-2001.
Up next: Developing Markets Operations. I started as marketing manager in Office Products and rose to the head of product marketing. It was onto the Supplies & Paper organization, and then to Integrated Marketing & Strategy.
Q. You’ve had a lot of responsibilities, haven’t you?
A. Things happened in due time. Xerox presents you with options if you want to take them and prove you’re worth it. I like to keep moving forward. The milestone that followed reflects that point of view. After seven years in DMO, I went to Xerox in Mexico as general manager.
Q. Was your move to become leader of Xerox Mexico planned?
A. The opportunity popped up. In fact, it was so fast that I had to learn Spanish on the job. Being fluent in French helped. During the first month, I had about 100 one-to-one meetings all in Spanish. Fortunately, I grasped everything people were saying to me. In a short while, I found myself speaking in Spanish and I have done so ever since. In Mexico, I joined the American Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Task Force, which enabled me to coach high-potential women in the country. I used my environmental credentials to connect with prominent businesswomen in Mexico to expand Xerox business there. We formed an “Old Girls’ Network” to help each other.
Q. From Mexico, did you move into your current role?
A. In between Mexico and leading our Latin American region, I joined our Global Supplies Business Group in Norwalk, Conn., from 2012 -2015. This team is part of the Global Technology Delivery Group, a hub of Xerox technology expertise. I was fortunate to work with highly knowledgeable professionals, who make things happen! This experience equipped me to go back to the field.
Q. How would you characterize the challenges and opportunities for Xerox in Latin America?
A. Our challenges derive mainly from operating in a difficult economic context. For example, in Argentina and Ecuador, we have to deal with import quotas and taxes; and that is on top of currency volatility. On the other hand, Spanish is the common language in the four countries in our LATAM organization. Plus, we have creative and dedicated Xerox people here, who design and implement customer-specific solutions that make us stand out in the market.
Q. What are the main items on your business agenda?
A. The big to do’s revolve around increasing the profitability of our operations and executing our regional strategy, which aligns with the corporate strategy. The overall goal is to build synergy in between our country operations and to use that tie-in to enhance our brand. Simple and clear, our strategy aims is to differentiate Xerox in Latin America via: (1) solutions and applications, (2) business partners and alliances and (3) demand generation focused on digital programs.
Q. Tell us more about your Big Three.
A. Multifunction Printers can do amazing things, just like smartphones today. How can customers get a hold of such capabilities? Through our solutions and applications. Likewise, we will showcase the many advantages of managed print services to optimize operations and resolve regional issues ─ the perfect marriage of Technology and Services. And as we build ever larger and stronger partners and alliances, our network will carry this theme into the market. Lastly, with regard to my comment about smartphones, workers rely on mobile devices to do their jobs. Our mobile printing apps help them print and do more wherever they are. Our strategy is highly executable; we’re excited about it.
Q. Change is a theme in your career. How do you apply it to our brand?
A. I personally like change. In my 25 years at Xerox, I have seen the company change and reinvent itself. That is a good thing. I believe our new brand motto ─ “Work Can Work Better” ─ should apply to us first. Then we can advise our customers how to improve their processes and workflows.
Q. Please explain your statement: ‘Neither nationality nor gender matter; what’s most important is talent.’
A. Xerox is a company that provides testament to this concept. Over the years here, I have worked with people of many nationalities; and I can confirm that the only thing that matters is the ability to move business forward. I am convinced I have had a good career because of our system of support to women with potential.
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