Ursula Burns is the chairman and CEO of Xerox. But more importantly, she’s the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company and the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 company.
Born to Panamanian immigrants, Burns was raised by a single mother in the Baruch Houses, a New York City housing project. After finishing high school, she went to New York University Polytechnic where she received her bachelor of science in mechanical Engineering and then headed off to Columbia University for her masters in Mechanical Engineering.
Burns worked as an intern at Xerox before permanently joining the corporation’s product development team when she finished her masters in 1981. She never had any intention of working on the business end of things until she was unexpectedly offered an executive assistant position.
When Xerox restructured in 1999, she was named vice president for Global Manufacturing. After that, things started moving very quickly. The next year she became vice president of Corporate Strategic Services and started working closely with (soon to be) CEO Anne Mulcahy. Their partnership was a hugely valuable learning experience for Burns and she eventually replaced Mulcahy in 2009.
Tah dah! History made.