Calling: Madame Chairperson and CEO
Why we’re saluting her:
Ursula Burns is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company and a true example that one can work their way from the bottom to the top.
Burns, the daughter of Panamanian immigrants, grew up in New York City projects, raised by a single mother. After attending a Catholic all-girls school on the eastside, Burns went on to obtain a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of NYU in 1980 and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University a year later.
After graduating from the Polytechnic Institute, Burns worked for Xerox as a summer intern and a year later she permanently joined the company after completing her master’s degree. Throughout the ’80s, Burns worked in various roles in product development and planning but then in 1990, a senior executive offered her a position as an executive assistant. Though Burns initially feared the position would be a dead-end job, it turned out to be a role that allowed her to quickly rise through the ranks of the company. Just one year later, Burns became executive assistant to then chairman and chief executive Paul Allaire, and by 1999, she was named vice president for global manufacturing.
In 2000, Burns became a senior vice president at Xerox and in this role she began working closely with soon to be CEO Anne Mulcahy. Nine years later, Burns ended up succeeding Mulcahy as CEO in July 2009.
Three years into her role as CEO, Burns used her position to speak out against Augusta National Golf Club’s male-only membership policy, saying that if they didn’t start accepting women, Xerox wouldn’t sponsor the Masters on her watch. In August 2012, the club opened its membership to women for the first time in 80 years. That same year, Burns made Forbes Most Powerful Women in the World list, ranking at number 17. And for her hard work, determination, and ability to build herself from summer intern to Chief Executive Officer, we salute Ursula Burns.