February 02, 2011

Feb 2 - Ursula Burns Brightly at Xerox

Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO, Xerox
If you’re at the office today, and use a printer or a copier, give a little nod to Ursula Burns, the Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation.

Ms. Burns became the first African-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, when she was appointed to the position in 2009. It was also the first time that a female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company succeeded another woman in the same role (Anne Mulcahy).

Born and raised in the projects, on Delancey Street, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Ms. Burns grew up with a single mother and two siblings, surrounded by many different nationalities and cultures in the neighborhood – all sharing a “common denominator and great equalizer of poverty,” she has been quoted saying. However, she was fortunate enough that her mother was able to help send her to private schools by running a daycare center out of her home, as well as taking in ironing.

Ms. Burns attended Cathedral High School, an all-girls Catholic School, where she was quickly identified as being a ‘Math Whiz’. Her abilities earned her a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University. Xerox helped to pay part of Ms. Burns’s tuition at Columbia and offered her a summer internship.

The summer internship in 1980, followed by an entry-level product development and planning position, a year later, when she had earned her Masters, were the start of Ms. Burns’s eventual rise to the highest level at Xerox. By 2001, she had been promoted to President of the Document Systems Solutions Group, and she was instrumental in helping the corporation return to profitability during the Noughties. For years, some critics had ungraciously been attributing her fast track, through Xerox’s corporate ranks, to affirmative action. Ms. Burns silenced the naysayers by responding in an August 1997, Black Enterprise magazine article, “The fact that I did it faster than others has nothing to do with my race and gender. It [has been] my performance.”

Stating a fact – not an opinion – others certainly seemed to agree. In 2003, a New York Times article said of her, "Even in her 30s, Burns was a smart, unconventional thinker who'd embrace new ideas even while older executives at the table were rejecting them"; and amongst numerous, other accolades, in 2008, Ms. Burns ranked 10th on Fortune magazine’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in America.
Fortune Magazine's Top 50 Most Powerful Women Ceremony

Ms. Burns sits on the Trustee Boards of American Express, Boston Scientific, FIRST, National Association of Manufacturers, University of Rochester, The MIT Corporation and The Rochester Business Alliance. In 2010, she was also appointed, by President Obama, as Vice-Chair to his Export Council.

Vice-Chair of the President's Export Council

A devoted wife and mother, Ms. Burns is married to Lloyd Bean, a retired Xerox scientist, and mother to their son and daughter.

In a letter to all Xerox employees, upon the announcement of her promotion to Chairman and CEO, Ms. Burns said, "This company has ... provided me with opportunities and experiences I couldn't even dream of as a little girl growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I feel so fortunate." 

I would say that ‘fortune’ certainly favors the bold…Well done, Ursula Burns!

Ursula Burns

Sources: NY Daily News, Wikipedia, Reference for Business, Google Images 

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