From the outside, it may seem that Flor Colon found success at information technology company Xerox by seizing hold of opportunities without pause. Behind the scenes, however, Colon admits that her career growth came less than naturally to her.
“I did not always feel like I was equipped for it,” Colon says. “I didn’t necessarily believe in my abilities as much as other people did. But I am thrilled that I’ve said yes to each opportunity because I’ve grown significantly from every single one of them.”
Colon’s ability to overcome her own doubts and meet new challenges has propelled her to the role of associate general counsel and chief ethics officer at Xerox. Along the way, she has honed her leadership style on a global stage and facilitated the spinoff of the company’s business services organization as Conduent Inc. Not to mention, she has gained the self-confidence to not only continue pushing her own limits but encourage others to do the same.
Colon attended college and law school in New York City, where she had grown up the oldest of three children. Her Cuban immigrant parents instilled in her and her siblings the value of education—and the importance of remembering their roots. Those lessons pushed Colon to give back to her community in Rochester, New York, after joining the litigation practice in a law firm in the area. Since moving to Rochester over thirty years ago, she has served on numerous nonprofit boards and raised money for local educational institutions.
Although she enjoyed her work at the firm, Colon longed for a more enduring relationship with the companies that she advised. “The idea of coming to work for a company where everything that I do is in connection with the same business team trying to achieve the same corporate goals was really attractive to me,” she says. “About ten years after I started working at the firm, an opportunity came up at Xerox. I feel very lucky because I’ve been able to have a career at Xerox that has changed over time and given me opportunities that I would have never had if I stayed at a law firm.”
Colon got her start at Xerox negotiating customer contracts as part of the corporate legal department. By 2004, she was leading legal teams in the company’s developing markets organization, focusing on Latin America. The geographical scope of her role expanded further in 2010, when she added legal support for eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and India.
“I had to get used to the fact that my team didn’t sit down the hall from me,” Colon explains. “But we were still a team, so I had to think about and develop ways to make everyone feel like we were all part of that team. A lot of it came down to creating opportunities to be together, even though we could only do that by phone.”
As a leader, Colon strives to get to know her team members as individuals and to remain open with them about herself in return. Beyond building authentic connections, she ensures that each team member understands the importance of their contributions within the framework of broader Xerox objectives and that they have the necessary resources and support to thrive and grow.
“I didn’t necessarily believe in my abilities as much as other people did. But I am thrilled that I’ve said yes to each opportunity because I’ve grown significantly from every single one of them.”
Colon has applied her leadership skills outside the legal department as well. She moved over to Xerox’s business side in 2015 to manage a team expanding the company’s use of strategic partnerships and alliances.
In 2016, another opportunity presented itself. “Xerox had announced that it was going to spin off its multibillion-dollar business services organization and the organization’s global subsidiaries and affiliates into a publicly-traded standalone company. That spring, the CFO asked me if I would join the program management office to take over and lead a slice of the separation project,” Colon recalls.
Colon’s role in the project consisted of keeping each sub-team on track to hit the end-of-year separation date. She oversaw the evaluation and division of legal, accounting, tax, audit, procurement, and other key functions throughout 2016. She then switched gears in 2017 to spearhead the timely termination of transition services between Xerox and the newly established Conduent enterprise.
Colon has since returned to the legal department and assumed her current role, which sees her wearing multiple hats. She juggles an ever-changing to-do list that encompasses topics ranging from ethics issues to active litigation matters to legal operations to human resources counseling.
Tariq Mundiya, chair of the Litigation Department at the New York law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, works with Colon on Xerox’s most complex corporate matters. “Flor cuts through the nonsense and gets right to the heart of a case,” he says. “She’s a super lawyer in every sense of the word.”
Balancing her many responsibilities is a daunting undertaking, but one that Colon is ready to tackle. After years of discovering just how much she is capable of achieving at Xerox, she now wants to guide mentees and colleagues toward the same realization. “I try to help them see that you don’t need to have experience in a particular role in order to do it. What you need is a set of skills that you can apply to that role,” she says. “It limits your ability to mature and develop if you restrict what you’re willing to consider to what you’ve already done.”
So take Colon’s advice—and say yes.
Set Up for Success
Flor Colon harnessed her belief in the transformative power of both education and community service by helping to establish the only all-girls charter school in Rochester, New York. When she shook the hands of the school’s first graduating class in 2018 as chair of the board of trustees, she was proud to recognize her younger self in the school’s successful students––many of them college-bound and all of them community leaders in the making.
The Kullman Firm: “Flor is always thinking dynamically and is shrewd at designing and implementing innovative solutions to complex challenges and problems. Her creative leadership and dedication are unparalleled, and she is truly an asset to Xerox.” —Sam Zurik, Shareholder