Cause of Choice: Change the Equation
Early Career Ambitions: Mathematician or scientist
First Job: Cashier at Woolworth's
Three Words to Describe Herself: Fearless, passionate, and fast
"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. And 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.
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.