TBT: Ursula Burns, CEO Xerox

Ursula Burns: “Where you are is not who you are.”

Summary: Ursula Burns, daughter of Panamanian immigrants, grew up in a New York City housing project.  She obtained a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of New York, and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.  The best advice she ever received was from her single mother, who said, “where you are is not who you are” while referencing the challenging social and economic circumstances in which Burns and her brother were raised.

Career Highlights:  Burns began her career at Xerox as an intern in the summer of 1980.  After permanently joining in 1981, she worked a variety of roles in product development and planning through the next 19 years.  In 1990, Wayland Hicks, a senior executive, offered her a position as his executive assistant.  Reluctant about the position at first, she accepted and quickly moved up, becoming the EA to the then chairman and CEO, Paul Allaire a year later.  At Xerox, the Executive Assistant position is a title given to highly-trusted senior-level staff with the expectation for growth.  In 1999, Burns’s title changed again to Vice President to Global Manufacturing, and a year after that to Senior Vice President.

Ursula Burns was named CEO of Xerox in July 2009.

Skills: Complete understanding of the importance of well-executed, demonstrable actions which have aided her in moving up the corporate ladder over the last 33 years.  Perseverance and determination which have enabled her to literally start from the bottom as an intern and make her way to CEO.  Understanding the value of serving customers and hard work.

Achievements:

  • First African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company
  • Rated 14th Most Powerful Woman by Forbes in 2009

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