Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO
Profile: Ursula Burns was born in New York City on Sept. 20, 1958. The 53-year-old Burns earned her BS in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University and her MS in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. She was appointed CEO of Xerox (NYSE:XRX) on July 1, 2009, and is the first African-American woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
The Story: The daughter of Panamanian immigrants, Burns was raised in the Baruch Houses projects on Manhattan’s Lower East Side by a single mother who sacrificed to send her three children to Catholic school. Her mother never let her know how tough the going was. “I can still hear her telling me that where you are is not who you are,” Burns once said. “If you’re in a bad place, it’s only temporary and shouldn’t change the core value of what you can bring to the world.”
Burns knew early on what she could bring to the world — a brilliant grasp of numbers. She took that gift to Xerox in 1980, where she worked as a summer mechanical-engineering intern. She grew in her career to lead several business teams, including the company’s color business and office network-printing unit.
After becoming senior VP of Corporate Strategic Services, Burns took charge of manufacturing and supply-chain operations. Working in partnership with Xerox’s first female CEO, Anne Mulcahy, her leadership grew to encompass all major operations.
Since becoming CEO, Burn has moved Xerox into the highly lucrative business-services market with the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services. Not one to rest on her laurels, Burns is positioning Xerox to compete in the next great revolution: providing technology for the health-insurance exchanges mandated under national health reform.