Unduplicated Success

Ursula M. Burns makes history as the first African American woman to head Xerox


company as a technologically focused, customer-oriented change agent. And she needed to draw on those skills when Xerox faced its own life-and-death struggle.

In May 2000, then-CEO Richard Thoman, the first “outsider” to head the organization, was forced to retire after a 14-month tenure that resulted in a fourth quarter profit drop of 52%. Stock prices had fallen 60%. The company had already cut 10,000 jobs since 1998 and predicted another 5,200 layoffs. When retired CEO Paul Allaire reclaimed the position, he promoted Human Resources Chief Anne M. Mulcahy to president and COO and Burns to senior vice president of corporate strategic services, managing the massive manufacturing and supplier chain operations. The stage was set for both women to rise to unprecedented levels of power.

In August 2001, Mulcahy was installed as CEO and Burns’ role was expanded to include global research and product development. But as sales continued to slide and the stock price nosedived 75%—from its high of $64 a share to $7 a share—their focus was to stop the hemorrhaging. Burns was charged with reducing costs by a staggering $2 billion in operations, including $200 million in manufacturing. “[Anne] had so many other things to focus on. The employee base was nervous, our customers were really unhappy, our investors were panicking. While she was focusing on other things, she just gave me a mandate to fix this thing.”

By September of that year, Burns was named president of worldwide business services. By October, she had outsourced their largest manufacturing projects to Singapore-based Flextronics International, breaking with corporate culture. In the end, 5,000 jobs were transferred to Flextronics, and 1,000 were cut. Analysts applauded company executions and reported the shift would shave roughly $250 million in costs and provide flexibility to develop other products.

It was this innovative, take-no-prisoners approach that propelled her rapid ascent. As president of business group operations, she managed day-to-day operations and developed competitive new platforms such as the DocuColor iGem3 Digital Production Press, an enhanced, environmentally friendly business copier. By 2007 she was named president of the entire company, responsible for marketing, human resources, IT, corporate strategy, and global operations. The company’s revenues and share price rose in lockstep with each advancement. In fact, by October 2007, Xerox was able

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