When the creator of Xerox described the inventor of xerography as an ``unreasonable man," he meant that as a compliment of the highest order.
In ``Joe Wilson and the Creation of Xerox," business management consultant and investment management professor Charles D. Ellis notes that, after Chester Carlson's death in 1968, Wilson seized every appropriate opportunity to laud the intrepid innovator for his vital contributions to the progress of xerography and Xerox.
On one of those occasions, writes Ellis, Wilson alluded to an observation by George Bernard Shaw in praising Carlson: ``All progress depends on the unreasonable man . . . because reasonable men accept the world as it is while unreasonable men persist in adapting the world to them. Chester Carlson was splendidly unreasonable."
Readers of this biography will come away convinced that Wilson was even more unreasonable, in that positive sense of the term, than Carlson.
Carlson pursued the idea of electrophotography for decades, despite setbacks and discouragement from the scientific and business worlds. But, as Ellis makes clear, it was Wilson who took the risks with Carlson's idea that ultimately paid off in the towering reality of the Xerox Corp.
``Carlson's technology dream -- brilliant as it was and so very timely -- came true and made him a fortune he generously gave away," Ellis wrote. ``He became one of the nation's best-known inventors because his brilliant invention interconnected with Joe Wilson's extraordinary entrepreneurial leadership. Carlson and Wilson profoundly changed each other's lives."
That interconnection occurred, Ellis points out, because Wilson realized that after World War II, his family's comparatively small company, Haloid Corp. of Rochester, N.Y., needed to develop new products for its long-term survival. Haloid's primary product was sensitized photographic paper, and it was in direct competition with the giant Eastman Kodak Co., also in Rochester.
Ellis's narrative focuses in great detail on Wilson's untiring efforts to accomplish his vision by using the technology Carlson pioneered. Wilson on several occasions attempted to form partnerships with larger companies such as IBM, RCA, General Electric, and Bell and Howell. Although some licensing agreements on xerography were reached with other companies, Wilson ultimately took the risk of committing Haloid to making and marketing the breakthrough 914 copier.
One of the book's most intriguing chapters, ``Five Cents," homes in on how one of Wilson's lieutenants came up with the idea of how to make big money by leasing the copiers to businesses and institutions. The idea was to charge customers a low monthly lease and 5 cents a copy after a certain number of copies.
``Charging five cents a copy was a long, long way from the estimated $25,000 purchase and its sticker shock," Ellis writes.
The book is also a portrait of a man who personified the highest ideals of what a corporate leader should be.
``He devoted his life to creative and effective leadership in public service . . . And when appropriate, he used the profitability of Xerox and his own increasing wealth to lead the process of social change," he writes.