Unduplicated Success

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

entrepreneurial business units. It was during this period that Burns ran her first business operation. As vice president and general manager of facsimile—a digital color and black-and-white copier business of the Office Documents Product division—Burns oversaw the smallest, least profitable, and “the least impactful business to manage.”

The newly minted manager was charged with making the fax business profitable and to introduce color technology. To communicate her strategic thrust, she developed an elaborate presentation for the CEO. Allaire’s response: “Make it profitable or close it.” Recalls Burns: “The clarity of the statement was amazing to me. It focused very clearly [on] what the objective was—something I learned that people need. And it made it easy for me to do my job better.”

Growing up professionally in one organization, Burns admits, helped her better understand its corporate culture and performance expectations. She says, “It’s important to figure out a way to be a strong individual, an advocate, and a team player for the rest of the group, and know when to stand back a little bit when it’s required of you to do so.”

Defining Her Own Style
Burns is a true engineer—curious, results-oriented, and precise in direction, time management, and language. She’s also sharp-witted with a biting sense of humor and holds an affinity for fashion, particularly shoes, belts, and textured hose. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen is among the very few business books she’s read, preferring novels that explore the human condition.
Her mother died at age 49, just as Burns was beginning her career. She deeply misses the woman that bestowed her with strong character and an unyielding work ethic. “Amazing woman; very clear, very unconfused and unambiguous,” says Burns, the mother of a 20-year-old son studying nuclear physics and math at MIT and a 17-year-old daughter in love with creative writing.

Having been integral to Xerox’s turnaround, Burns is now focused on how to meet a whole new set of business challenges. Analysts predict revenues to increase only 1% this year and 3% in 2011. But even as her team must contend with a volatile global economy through 2010, she’s confident about her organization’s sound structure. To keep the company competitive, she recently completed the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, the largest such transaction in the company’s 104-year history. Thomas W. Smith, analyst at Standard & Poor’s, says the addition of this

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