FEMLEADS STORY - Ursula Burns

FEMLEADS STORY - Ursula Burns

Ursula M. Burns currently serves as Chairman (since May 2010) and CEO (since July 2009) of Xerox. She made headlines in 2009 when she became the first African-American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She is also the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 company, having succeeded Anne Mulcahy as CEO of Xerox.

Ursula was born on September 20, 1958 and was raised by a single mother in the Baruch Houses, 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.

According to Ursula, her mother is her greatest inspiration and she was her strength during her growing up years in the rough and tumble public housing projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Many people told her that she had three strikes against her: She was black. She was a girl. And she was poor. Her mother though didn’t see it that way. She constantly reminded her that where she was didn’t define who she was. She knew that education was her daughter’s way up and out. On a modest salary, her mother somehow managed to send Ursula to good Catholic schools. Back then Ursula was prepared for one of three career options: nun, teacher, or nurse. None of those paths felt quite right to her and she began dreaming of becoming an engineer. Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute offered her a spot in the freshman class and she panicked—a classic case of being careful of what one wishes for. She thought she didn’t have the right preparation for it. The school was in a different borough of New York City that seemed foreign and distant to her. She feared the students would surely be smarter than her. However, the courage and confidence that her mother and Cathedral High School had given her enabled her to go for it. It wasn’t easy. It would have been so simple to let go of her dreams and set out on a more predictable journey. Besides, she had a lot of catch-up courses to master. She was an oddity in a sea of predominantly white males. She doubted herself big time. She even started out in chemical engineering but later switched to mechanical engineering, which she enjoyed more. And, ever so slowly, she regained her footing. She went on to obtain a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering in 1980 and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University a year later.

In 1980, she first worked for Xerox as a summer intern, permanently joining a year later, in 1981, after completing her master's degree. In January 1990, her career took an unexpected turn when Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive, offered her a job as his executive assistant. She accepted and worked for him for roughly nine months when she was ready to go back home because she was about to be married to Lloyd Bean. 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. In 2000, she 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, she was named CEO, succeeding Mulcahy, who remained as Chairman until May 2010. Thereafter Ursula Burns was also designated as the Chairman. 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. 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.

In addition to the Xerox board, she is a board director of the American Express Corporation Exxon Mobil Corporation and Datto Inc. She also provides leadership counsel to community, educational and non-profit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), National Academy Foundation, MIT, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. She is a founding board director of Change the Equation, which focuses on improving the U.S.'s education system in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In March 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed her vice chair of the President's Export Council. She regularly appears on Fortune’s and Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women.

She has been married to Lloyd Bean for over 25 years, whom she met while working at Xerox. A scientist and researcher, he was also 20 years her senior. She has a daughter Melissa (born c. 1992) and a stepson Malcolm (born c. 1989) who attended MIT. She likes to spend most of her time with organizations that help minorities and women gain the education and self-respect they need to take risks and to dream big.

Source: Wikipedia and Google search.

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