Ursula Burns Case Study
Learn about how Ursula Burns continued to lean and grow and how this led her to become the first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Ursula Burns is a remarkable example of how dedication and continuous learning can lead to success. Born and raised in a New York City housing project, Burns worked her way up to become the CEO of Xerox Corporation, one of the largest technology and services companies in the world.
Burns began her career at Xerox as an intern in 1980 while studying mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York. She impressed her supervisors with her work ethic and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming an executive assistant to a senior executive at the company.
From there, Burns continued to take on new responsibilities and challenges, always seeking to learn and grow. She worked in various positions at Xerox, including in product development and planning, before being appointed to lead the company's manufacturing and supply chain operations in 1999.
In this role, Burns oversaw a major restructuring of Xerox's manufacturing operations, which resulted in significant cost savings and improved efficiency. Her success in this role led to her being named president of Xerox's Document Systems and Solutions Group in 2000.
As president, Burns was responsible for the company's research, development, marketing, and delivery of document solutions and services. She continued to focus on innovation and efficiency, leading the development of several new products and services, including the first high-speed, cut-sheet printer and a revolutionary color printing technology called the Xerox iGen3 Digital Production Press.
Under Burns' leadership, Xerox also expanded its global presence, acquiring several companies in Europe and Asia and building a strong presence in emerging markets such as China and India.
In 2007, Burns was named president of Xerox Corporation, and in 2009, she became the company's CEO, succeeding Anne Mulcahy, who had mentored Burns throughout her career at Xerox.
As CEO, Burns faced significant challenges, including the impact of the global financial crisis and the rapid shift toward digital technology in the printing and document management industry. However, she remained focused on innovation and growth, leading Xerox's transformation into a diversified technology and services company.
Under Burns' leadership, Xerox expanded its offerings to include business process outsourcing, information technology outsourcing, and managed print services, among other areas. She also oversaw several major acquisitions, including the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, a major provider of business process outsourcing and IT services.
Throughout her career, Burns has been a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, leveraging her own experiences as a Black woman in a predominantly white, male-dominated industry. She has also been a vocal supporter of education and workforce development, serving on the President's Export Council and the White House National STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Education Advisory Committee.
In recognition of her achievements, Burns has received numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor awarded by the United States government for technological innovation, and being named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.
Burns continues to serve as a leading voice on issues related to business, technology, and diversity and inclusion. She serves on the boards of several major companies, including Exxon Mobil, Nestle, and Uber, and she is a senior advisor to Teneo, a global consulting firm.
Burns' story is a testament to the power of hard work, dedication, and continuous learning. Despite facing significant challenges and obstacles, she never lost sight of her goals and continued to take on new challenges and responsibilities throughout her career. Her leadership and innovation have transformed Xerox into a global leader in technology and services, and her advocacy for diversity and education have made a lasting impact on the industry and society as a whole.