April 23, 2013

Ursula Burns and Her Burning Passion

Ursula Burns holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman to be at the helm of a Fortune 500 company as the CEO of Xerox. In 2009, Forbes recognized her as the 14th most powerful woman in the world. Born in 1958, Burns was raised in New York. It was in 1980 when Burns first had the chance to work for Xerox as an intern. A year later, she permanently joined the company after having completed her Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.

After working in product development and planning, Burns moved up the ranks and was named senior vice president for Corporate Strategic Services in 2000. Working with Anne Mulcahy, the CEO then, Burns pushed to restructure Xerox to turn it around and become a leader in document services and color technology. In 2007, she became the president and moved on to become the CEO in 2010, taking charge of 140,000 employees from all over the world. As Burns moved up her career, she’s come to really value other attributes that contribute to the success of a company beyond simple P&L, like long-term financial strength, great leadership, evolving business strategies, ethical business practices, sound governance, values-based decision-making, and powerful brands. Burns joined Xerox at the time that the company was leading in the global photocopying market and through the years that she’s been part of it, she played an important role in Xerox’s efforts to come out on top when it comes to digital document technologies today.

Aside from being CEO of Xerox, Burns is also board director for Exxon Mobil Corporation and the American Express Corporation and provides leadership counsel to educational, community, and non-profit organizations including FIRST, MIT, National Academy Foundation, and the US Olympic Committee. She was also appointed to be vice chair of the President’s Export Council by US President Barack Obama.