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Xerox Works To Reassure Jittery Partners, Customers After Truce With Icahn Falls Apart

Channel partners are worried that the open corporate warfare between billionaire Carl Icahn and on-again, off-again, on-again CEO Jeff Jacobson has become a distraction.

Xerox partner Troy Tafoya sat down Friday morning with one of his largest customers, and the talk immediately turned to the drama playing out between the company’s existing leadership and two powerful, extremely dissatisfied shareholders.

"You really can't make this stuff up," said Tafoya, president of Professional Document Solutions in Fort Collins, Colo. "I had to reassure them, 'Nothing is going to change on your end. We're going to take care of you.'"

The latest twist in the months-long struggle for control of the 112-year-old document technology icon occurred late Thursday, when a ceasefire between Xerox and activist investors Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason expired with no formal peace accord in place. As a result, the plan to replace embattled CEO Jeff Jacobson with Icahn stalwart John Visentin and six current members of the board with new blood never took effect.

[Related: Xerox, Fujifilm Merger Temporarily Blocked By New York Judge]

And channel partners are saying that the open corporate warfare between billionaire Icahn and on-again, off-again, on-again CEO Jacobson has become a distraction.

"Its just embarrassing how public it is," Tafoya said. "All of this is playing out in the press. I don't think any of them are bad people, I just think this fighting should be done in a boardroom."

Josh Justice, president of La Plata, Md.-based Just-Tech, told CRN earlier on Friday that while he is confident Xerox remains committed to the channel, he told his salespeople to anticipate more announcements from corporate in "this interesting time."

Xerox, meanwhile, is telling partners that there have been "no changes" to the relationship with the channel despite the shareholder revolt, courtroom battles, and this week’s collapsed truce with Icahn and Deason.

"We have been reaching out to partners that have inquired and have assured them that there have been no changes to contracts or our relationships with them," Xerox spokesman Carl Langsenkamp said in an email to CRN. "We told them our priority remains focused on delivering best-in-class service, driving innovation, and ensuring the high level of quality that Xerox is known for with the same dedication and commitment to meet and exceed customers’ expectations."

Partners also woke Friday morning to a blistering response from Ichan, who had orchestrated Jacobson's ouster, and called the collapse of the deal "reckless." He said that Xerox’s board was operating out of "brazen self-interest."

A fan of Jacobson, Tafoya said he is glad the erstwhile CEO is back in the corner office, though he isn’t sure how long that arrangement will last.

"I'm happy that Jeff is back," he said. "But I'm not confident that the Icahn and Deason group are going to sit back. I think they're going to make another run at it.’

Mark Elliott, CEO and founder of 3i International, a Xerox partner in Houston, said he has not seen this play out in any way among his customers. He said the high-stakes kerfuffle is "above my pay-grade."

"When you're at the dealer level, we're supporting the gear. We don't need Xerox to turn the screwdriver," he said. "Jeff Jacobson is a great leader and good for the channel. I don't think Icahn is bad for Xerox. He's trying to get the best return for shareholders. And I think Icahn is behind the channel … These are big boys, with big dollars behind them, and they're playing to win."

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