LEANA GRANDY HAD already scheduled her 1986 Christmas vacation to start on Dec. 15 when she found out she had a shot at being ranked the Xerox Corp.'s top salesperson in one government account.
That year, Grandy didn't walk out of her Century City office until 3 p.m. Christmas Eve, when her older brother Ray picked her up to drive her to Sacramento for the family celebration. But missing her vacation was well worth it, Grandy cheerfully recalls, because she sold more than $3 million worth of copiers, desktop publishing systems, desktop laser printers and Xerox software that year, making her Xerox's No. 1 account representative in the country in that field.
"It was like being in a marathon and knowing you're so close to that finish line that there are only one or two other people you have to beat," says the soft-spoken 28-year-old, taking a rare break from making sales calls to recount her drive to the top. "I worked really hard and the closer it came to being attainable, I just went for it."
That "go for broke" attitude says a lot about what makes Grandy representative of a new breed of professional women--women who are increasingly taking over the sales forces at major corporations and using these positions as a springboard up the corporate ladder. "Leana is very success motivated, very competent, very conscientious and very dedicated to her work," says Tom Farrell, a Xerox national account manager who frequently works with Grandy. "I think more than anything else, she has the will to do it."
That determination has been with Grandy from the beginning. The only daughter of a single-parent family in Sacramento--her mother died when she was in high school--Grandy worked her way through USC on six scholarships. There, she earned an undergraduate degree in business and was one of 12 women out of a class of 140 who decided to be part of the university's renowned Entrepreneurship Program. Rather than start her own business, however, Grandy took the advice of a professor who counseled her to develop herself at a corporation with a sales training program--on their time and money.
Faced with four job offers, Grandy chose Xerox because she liked its sales program and because she felt the company was "very in tune to minority issues," which, because she is Latina, is important to her. After a two-month training program in Santa Ana, Grandy became a Xerox marketing representative. She was given a geographical territory--in L.A.'s Koreatown and north of her old alma mater--and told to go out and knock on doors, what's known in the business as making "cold calls." In that first sales position, at age 22, Grandy discovered that she was a natural. After only a year on the job, she made Xerox's "President's Club," winning a weeklong, all-expense-paid vacation to San Diego.
A year and a half later, Grandy was promoted to account representative, where amid what she describes as "very stiff" competition, she went on to become Xerox's top salesperson in her field--what Xerox refers to as a state and local package--beating out some 200 peers for the honor. In fact, in her past three positions, Grandy has made three out of three "President's Clubs" at Xerox, consistently meeting high sales quotas. Although she won't be specific about how much she earns, Grandy says she made more than $70,000 last year and has broken the six-figure mark in previous years. (Her compensation is 20% salary, 80% sales commissions.)
Like many successful women, Grandy readily admits that she hasn't done it alone. Her energy and natural gift for sales have been complemented by several mentors within the company, both male and female, who've taught and advised her along the way, a practice she now reciprocates with newer employees. She's also a member of Xerox's Hispanic employee organization, the Hispanic Association for Professional Advancement, which provides support and networking opportunities.
"I think the way you really get ahead and are successful and become well respected, is if the people under you respect you," she points out. "And that, you have to earn."
And she does seem to have fans in all levels of the corporation, as evidenced by the notes she received from both her managers and subordinates wishing her luck during her race to be No. 1 in 1986. But in such a competitive company, individual success can also create resentment. "Any time you have people in a competitive field and someone distinguishes themselves, there are people who get jealous and petty," she says. "I try to be as modest and humble as I can be."
Today, as a five-year Xerox veteran, she looks back on those first few years as "grueling": 60- to 80-hour workweeks, late nights strategizing or learning new equipment, logging hundreds of miles on her automobile, and all the while trying to get a handle on her new company. "She's everything you want in a sales rep," notes Farrell.