Ursula Burns: Driving Change at Xerox
Ursula Burns has a certain prominence in our minds because she became the first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 company. Yes, of course, she is a trail blazer in this regard but it was not for this reason that we included her in our list of Ten Outstanding Female Business Leaders.
Burns took over at the helm at Xerox in 2009 from perhaps one of the best saleswomen to have headed a Fortune 500 company namely, Anne Mulcahy. The prime driver behind what Money Magazine describes as “the great turnaround story of the post-crash era”, Mulcahy bought Xerox back from the brink of bankruptcy. Burns was a key member of Mulcahy’s team and the women describe their working relationship as a true partnership. So the succession of Burns came as no great surprise.
The challenges Burns faces now are certainly no less problematic than those of her predecessor. As each day passes “making a Xerox copy” becomes less and less relevant to the future of the business. Xerox needs a leader to help drive the necessary changes that will ensure its long term security. An trained engineer with a Masters from Columbia and a reputation for speaking her mind, Burns is pushing forward a real transformation at the Company. Her first major step was the acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services for $6.4 billion in 2010. As Xerox brings increasing levels of service into its business model, the quality of leadership and oversight provided by Burns is proving to be of critical importance.
Having joined the company as in intern in 1980, Burns is in many ways a product of Xerox’s ability to deliver product development and innovation in-house. There are few companies with Xerox’s track record for invention. With these skills running through the veins of the company, it seems fitting that Xerox has been able to produce a leader of the calibre of Burns.
We selected Ursula Burns because we believe she is the person who – at this critical point in Xerox’s history – will help ensure that the Company will still be a household name fifty years from now. Maybe the term ‘Xeroxing’ will take on significant and profitable new meanings.