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Ursula Burns: The first African-American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company

“Where You Are Is Not Who You Are”

Ursula M. Burns is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company. Burns who has been listed multiple times by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox. During her tenure, she has helped the company transform from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes. In 2015 she helped generate $18 billion in revenue.

Burns was born on September 20 1958, and raised by a single mother in a New York city housing project. Both of her parents were Panamanian immigrants. She attended Cathedral High School, a Catholic all-girls school on East 56th Street in New York. She went on to obtain a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from New York University in 1980 and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University a year later.

In 1980, Burns first worked for Xerox as a summer intern, permanently joining a year later, in 1981, after completing her master’s degree. She worked in various roles in product development and planning in the remainder of the 1980s throughout her 20s. In January 1990, her career took an unexpected turn when Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive, offered Burns a job as his executive assistant. She accepted and worked for him for roughly nine months. In June 1991, she became executive assistant to then chairman and chief executive Paul Allaire. In 1999, she was named vice president for global manufacturing.

“Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic and the courage to lean in.”

In 2000, Burns was named a senior vice president and began working closely with soon to be CEO Anne Mulcahy, in what both women have described as a true partnership. Nine years later, in July 2009, Burns made headlines when she was named CEO succeeding Mulcahy, who remained as chairman until May 2010.

Shortly after being named CEO in 2009, she spearheaded the largest acquisition in Xerox history, the $6.4 billion purchase of Affiliated Computer Services. Today, Xerox is the leader in diversified business process services with its Services business representing over 50 percent of the company’s total revenue. Its Document Technology business remains the market share leader in the industry and continues to grow in key areas including graphic communications.

Burns has been exceptionally visible during her tenure, making frequent public appearances. She regularly appears on Fortune’s and Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women, is a board director of the American Express Corporation, Exxon Mobil Corporation and the Ford Foundation. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Burns to help lead the White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and she was appointed chair of the President’s Export Council in 2015 after service as vice chair since 2010.

She also provides leadership counsel to several other community, educational and non-profit organizations including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the National Academy Foundation and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), among others.

Burns was the Commencement speaker at MIT’s 2011 Commencement, which was also the conclusion of MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration. She delivered the 2011 Commencement address at the University of Rochester. She was the 2012 Commencement speaker for Xavier University of Louisiana’s May 12 Commencement ceremony, where she also received an honorary degree, one of the institution’s highest honors.

Regarding her personal life, Burns married Lloyd Bean, who also worked at Xerox, and she resides in Manhattan, New York. She has a daughter Melissa (born c. 1992) and a stepson Malcolm (born c. 1989) who attended MIT.


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