Encouraging innovation: O&A with xerox chairman and ceo ursula burns.


When Burns joined Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern, the company was the leader in the global photocopying market. As she later assumed roles in product development and planning, the company was securing its leadership position in digital document technologies. From 1992 through 2000, Burns, at a pivotal point in the company's history, led several teams including Xerox's color business and its office network printing unit.

Burns was named chief executive officer in July 2009 and on May 20, 2010, Burns became chairman. Today she leads more than 140,000 Xerox people, who serve clients in more than 180 countries.

Burns earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of NYU and a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University.

In addition to the Xerox board, she is a director of the American Express Corporation and Exxon Mobil Corporation. Burns also provides leadership counsel to community,

Financial Executive sat down with Ms. Burns in anticipation of her general session keynote during FEI's Annual Leadership Summit.

Q What's been the most surprising thing you learned about becoming CEO? [BURNS: I've spent my career at Xerox and I know we have the most dedicated and passionate employees committed to customers and delivering excellence. We have a strong and iconic brand known all over the world, and a corporate philosophy of pushing ourselves to do better for our customers. All of these things contributed to my progression at the company educational and non-profit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), National Academy Foundation, MIT, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. She is a founding board director of Change the Equation, which focuses on improving the U.S. education system in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In March 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Burns vice chair of the President's Export Council.

When I became CEO, there was a shift I needed to make from focusing on individual business objectives to serving the people of Xerox more specifically. I am here to do what's needed for the rest of the 140,000 people to succeed in their goals.

One of the very early surprises that came to me shortly after being named CEO was the attention paid to the female-to-female CEO handoff, from Anne Mulcahy to me--which at Xerox we didn't think much about at all. I guess we...

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