“Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mom proud!” That’s what a sign on the wall in Ursula Burns’s office reads. One can assume her Mom would have been more than proud when it was announced last week that beginning July 1, 2009 Ursula will take on the role of Xerox’s next CEO.
Raised in the projects on Manhattan’s lower east side, some say Ursula’s rise through the ranks of corporate America was an unlikely outcome. But it was the sacrifice and example set by her mother, a single parent, who had a far more profound effect on Ursula than the concrete jungle around her. She watched as her mother took on domestic work and ran a successful daycare out of their home in order to send Ursula to Catholic school and then to Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Ursula went on to attend Columbia University where she received her M.S. degree in mechanical engineering. Her education in engineering and natural talent for math made her the perfect candidate for Xerox’s engineering intern program in 1980.
Since joining Xerox, Burns, an avid biker, held several significant leadership roles. She was the first to hold the role of President of Xerox’s Business Group Operations responsible for 80 percent of Xerox’s profits. It was her leadership and the leadership of out-going CEO Anne Mulcahy that began the turnaround of Xerox, poising it for future success. Fortune named her one of 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in America and she frequently appears on Black Enterprise’s Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America list. Even with all the accolades and experience, it’s no secret that Ursula is taking the helm at a pivotal and challenging time for Xerox. But if history does indeed repeat itself, then Ursula and Xerox are bound for success.
Image courtesy of Rochester Institute of Technology.