Would You Like Some Ice for those Burns?
By Marcy Driehaus
“Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic and the courage to lean in. That’s why I spend so much time with organizations that help minorities and women gain the education and self-respect they need to take risks, to dream big and, hopefully, to someday pay it forward”. Future businesswomen of America, take note. These words of inspiration were spoken by none other than our woman of the week: Mrs. Ursula Burns, current CEO of the multibillion dollar company, Xerox.
Ursula Burns was born to a hardworking single mother on September 20, 1958. Growing up in the Baruch Houses (a poor housing project in New York City) wasn’t easy, but Ursula’s strive for excellence has been evident ever since adolescence. Her journey, unfortunately, was a difficult one. According to her “Lean In” story on leanin.org, Burns says, “Many people told me I had three strikes against me. I was black. I was a girl. And I was poor”. Well, she sure proved that she could overcome those assumed setbacks in years to come.
Burns also mentioned in her “Lean In” story that she attended an all-girls catholic high school, which is what she in part credits for giving her the initial drive towards something great. From there, she went on to attend Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and later Columbia University. With a BA in science in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in science in Mechanical Engineering, Burns was ready to take on the world.
It all began in 1980 with her summer internship at Xerox, a multinational document management corporation. She slowly but surely made her way to the top as the years progressed. In 1981 she officially joined the company, but jump ahead to 1990 and Burns, after nine years of hard work and determination, earned a job executive assistant to the senior executive, Wayland Hicks. This trend of success continued when Burns was then offered the position of executive assistant to Paul Allaire, then the chairman and chief executive of Xerox. Burns wouldn’t settle for assisting men forever, and in 1999, she was deemed vice president of the global manufacturing department. She continued to climb the cooperate ladder, and along the way she served as senior vice president in 2000, before being named CEO in 2009. As if to add to this impressive feat, Burns is additionally the first ever African-American woman CEO to conduct a Fortune 500 company. After officially being given this momentous title, Burns was quoted saying, “My perspective comes in part from being a New York black lady, in part from being an engineer. I know I’m smart and have opinions worth being heard”. What a fantastic message for women and girls everywhere!
Ursula Burns has obtained a variety of impressive awards over the years, some notable ones being, 2012 Vision for America Award, 2013 Prism Award, and the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only that, but Burns was also recognized by a couple of presidents as well, having not only been given the National Medal of Technology for Xerox by President Bush, but also being chosen as President Obama’s vice chair of the President’s Export Council. She also takes the word “powerful” to a whole new level by having titles such as 14th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes and one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business bestowed upon her.
Despite having all the odds against her, Ursula still managed to achieve epic triumphs. Even with her acknowledging that she was, “An oddity in a sea of predominantly white males,”she didn’t let that restrain her from conquering ultimate success. Apart from her entrepreneurial fame and notoriety, Burns also serves on many community and professional boards such as Change the Equation, which is an organization where the primary focus is to improve the U.S.’s education system in crucial subjects such as math and science. It’s no question that Ursula Burns’s status and remarkable accomplishments mark her as nothing short of influential.