Carl Icahn's public criticisms of Xerox and CEO Jeff Jacobson caught channel partners by surprise this week, when the billionaire activist investor launched his campaign to install a new chief executive and four board director nominees at the Norwalk, Conn.-based printing giant.
In a letter sent to investors on Tuesday, Icahn – who owns more than 9 percent of the company – argued that Xerox has introduced underwhelming products and relied too heavily on sales, marketing and R&D cost-cutting in Jacobson's 12 months at the helm. He added that Jacobson, chairman Bob Keegan and other "old guard" members of the Xerox board have failed to recognize that further change is needed.
"We are hopeful that a change in senior leadership will lead to… value creation at Xerox," Icahn wrote. "The long-tenured members of the board seem to have their heads in the sand just like at Eastman Kodak. There is still time for change – but very little time."
Xerox partners who spoke with CRN, however, painted a different picture. They praised many of the strategic changes made in the past year, including improvements in the managed print services program and the app development made possible through a broader lineup of ConnectKey devices, and expressed support for Jacobson.
"Jeff is very passionate about the business," said Troy Tafoya, president of Fort Collins, Colo.-based Professional Document Solutions. "If you get somebody who isn't as passionate about the business, it can go in the wrong direction. That's a concern we'd all have. I think he has made Xerox great again in terms of focusing on the core business, more focus on employee and partner satisfaction, and most importantly customer satisfaction. At the end of the day, they decide if we have a job or not."
Tafoya said he has been excited to transition away from the traditional agent-only partnership model, despite the associated challenges, and believes apps could become a true difference-maker for the Xerox channel down the road. He also believes that Icahn's call for a leadership change is hasty, given that many of these examples are recently-launched developments.
"That is a shocker," Tafoya said. "Maybe they expected a quicker turnaround in terms of profit and where the company is heading. I think that's unrealistic in that short amount of time."
Just-Tech President Josh Justice echoed similar sentiments.
The La Plata, Md.-based solution provider, named Xerox App Developer of the Year in March, maintains a flourishing apps business that accounted for 10 percent of company revenue as of this past spring. Justice said the growth in custom Xerox app development has allowed his company to streamline workflows and, in turn, create new value for customers.
"Just-Tech has had an incredible year being a Xerox partner and taking advantage of Xerox’s partner programs, and bringing these new products, apps and solutions to our customers," he said. "We are anticipating a huge 2018."