The Xerox Corporation made history in 2009 when it named Ursula Burns as its new CEO, making her the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Four years later, Burns has settled in as one of the most powerful figures of any kind in the world of business. In recognition of her leadership, Fortune Magazine in October ranked Burns at No. 13 on its list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.
“The accolades that I get for doing absolutely nothing are amazing—I’ve been named to every list, literally, since I became the CEO,” Burns said in an interview with The New York Times. “What have I done? In the first 30 days, I was named to a list of the most impressive XYZ. The accolades are good for five minutes, but then it takes kind of a shine off the real story. The real story is not Ursula Burns. I just happen to be the person standing up at this point representing Xerox.”
Burns appeared earlier this year in the PBS special “An Evening With Ursula Burns,” a one-on-one interview hosted by journalist Gwen Ifill. In the D.C. area, the show will re-air from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16 on WHUT, and on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21 on WETA.
A New York native, Burns joined the company in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern and steadily moved through the ranks. From 1992 through 2000, Burns led several business teams, including the company’s color business and office network printing business. She was named senior vice president in 2000, heading up manufacturing and supply chain operations. Burns took over as CEO in 2009 from the retiring Anne Mulcahy, a move which also made Burns the first woman to succeed another woman as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Burns earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University and a Masters of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University.
“As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve come to appreciate—and really value—the other attributes that define a company's success beyond the [profit and loss]: great leadership, long-term financial strength, ethical business practices, evolving business strategies, sound governance, powerful brands, values-based decision-making.” Burns said in a statement.