MAKERS Profile

Ursula Burns

Former CEO, Xerox Corporation

In this video

Ursula Burns on growing up poor, workplace discrimination, and becoming the first African-American woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company. 
"I'm a black lady from the Lower East Side of New York," Ursula Burns told Fast Company in 2011. "Not a lot intimidates me." It’s a stance that has served Burns—and her Xerox Corporation colleagues and shareholders—well. Armed with engineering degrees from Columbia and NYU, she has rolled up her sleeves to reinvent the famed copier corporation for a post-copier age. Burns’s 2009 ascension, as Chief Executive Officer of Xerox and as Chairperson of its Board the following year, made her the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 Company. In taking the Xerox reins from her mentor, predecessor and “true partner” Anne Mulcahy, she demonstrated that female leadership in the highest corporate reaches can be more than a novelty. Today Burns serves as the chairman of Xerox's legacy hardware business.   Forbes consistently rates Burns as one of the most powerful woman in the world. She’s a board director of the American Express corporation while providing leadership counsel to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the National Academy Foundation, MIT and to the U.S. Olympic Committee. In 2009, Burns was appointed by President Obama to help lead the White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). She was appointed vice chair for the President's Export Council in March 2010. 

More From Ursula

Two Historic Firsts
Burns explains how her historic appointment as Xerox CEO was even more noteworthy than she first realized.

Smarts & a Scholarship
Scholarships and underestimated smarts allowed Ursula Burns to find her way to college and eventually Xerox.

Befriending Wayland
Befriending Wayland Hicks taught Burns it was possible to overcome seemingly irreconcilable cultural differences.

Women Are Different
Burn's offers her take on "feminism" which celebrates the difference between men and woman.

This head of a tech giant looks to Einstein for inspiration.

Planning a Future
Burns offers advice to young women and men for planning their lives and careers.

Redefining Balance
Is the life of a Fortune 500 CEO balanced?  Burns evaluates how she has done on balance in her life and how she now defines it.

Dropping Out
Burns addresses the phenomenon of women dropping out of the workforce.

Mother's Lessons
Burns shares her mother's wise sayings that she only appreciated when she got older.

Growing Up Poor
Burns discussing growing up in a NYC housing project and the stereotypes that attach to residents.