to reinstate its quarterly dividend payout to shareholders for the first time in more than six years. That same year, Burns was also elected to Xeroxâ€™s board of directors, a clear sign she was the heir apparent to the chief executive.
In July 2009, she achieved a business milestone: Burns, 51, became the first African American woman to hold the position of CEO at an S&P 100 corporation, a $17.8 billion giant with operations in more than 160 countries and a payroll of 57,000 employees. What made her appointment even more momentous is the transition represented the first time a female executive was replaced by another woman at the highest corporate level.
Now, her focus is building the company into an indomitable force in the $132 billion business technology market through a combination of acquisition and organic growth. And judging by her latest moves, thereâ€™s no question that Burns will demonstrate why she is one of the most powerful CEOs on the planet.
Making All the Right Connections
For someone who didnâ€™t plan for such ascension, Burnsâ€™ timing has been impeccable. Several factorsâ€”including her technical expertiseâ€”helped position Burns, says Katherine Giscombe, vice president of Women of Color Research for Catalyst, an advocacy organization for the advancement of women in business. â€śHer mechanical engineering background has been key,â€ť she maintains. â€śThis type of technical degree opens the door to a broader set of career opportunities.â€ť
Burns agrees. â€śOne of the things that Xerox taught me was that it was really important to be great at something, for two reasons,â€ť she explains. â€śPeople have to actually know that you can do something; you earn the position of being a generalist by being a really good specialist, an individual contributor. The other is the amount of things that get thrown at you in a day when you lead an organization, you have to have a place that you can rest a bit. And for me it happens to be in engineering and in labs.â€ť
Giscombe also notes the number of roles Burns played within the organization provided her with an intimate understanding of Xeroxâ€™s broad range of business operations. Mulcahyâ€™s mentorship proved vital to her rise as well. Says Ancella B. Livers, executive director of the Institute for Leadership Development & Research at The Executive Leadership Council: â€śUrsula had a great strategic