Ursula M. Burns (born September 20, 1958) serves as Chairwoman (since May 2010) and CEO (since July 2009) of Xerox. As such, she is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company.
Burns was raised by a single mother in the Baruch Houses, a New York city housing project. She attended Cathedral High School, a Catholic all-girls school on East 56th Street in New York. 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.
In 1980, Burns first worked for Xerox as a summer intern, permanently joining a year later, in 1981, after completing her master’s degree. She worked in various roles in product development and planning in the remainder of the 1980s throughout her 20’s.
In January 1990, her career took an unexpected turn when Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive, offered Burns 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, Burns 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 chairwoman until May 2010.
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Burns has served on numerous professional and community boards, including Exxon Mobil Corporation, American Express, Boston Scientific, FIRST, National Association of Manufacturers, University of Rochester, the MIT Corporation, the Rochester Business Alliance, and the RUMP Group.
She was the Commencement speaker at MIT’s 2011 Commencement, which was also the conclusion of MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration. Burns pushed for the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services that closed in 2010, though Xerox Corp. (NYSE: XRX) has yet to see any substantial benefit from the deal. Late last year, the company called the police prior to announcing 168 layoffs at its Cary, N.C., facility, noting they “were expecting trouble.” It was the second round of a total of roughly 500 layoffs. She has been listed multiple times by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2014, she was listed as the 22nd.