Ursula Burns is a veteran of corporate evolution, the first African American woman to serve as CEO and chairman of a Fortune 500 company. Born in the public housing projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Burns had a dream of becoming an engineer. She was constantly reminded by her mother that ‘where I was didn’t define who I was.’ Armed with her mother’s encouragement, Burns would attend the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute of New York, earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. She would go on to pursue her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. Burns would join Xerox, quickly rising through the ranks from product development to various roles in engineering and management. She would broaden her skills in global research, product development, and marketing as she was named president of Xerox in 2007. Within two years, with her transformational leadership, Burns would be named chairman. During her tenure, Burns would turn Xerox into the world’s most diversified business service company, serving enterprises and governments of all sizes.
In 2009, Burns was selected by President Barack Obama to spreadhead the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Educational Coalition, a national alliance of more than 1,000 technological organizations striving to improve student participation and performance in the subject areas through legislative advocacy. She would also serve on the President’s Export Council (PEC), a group of labor, business, and government leaders who advise the president on methods to promote the growth of American exports. For expertise and leadership, she also serves on the board of numerous companies including Exxon Mobil, Uber, and Veon. In a male-dominated industry, Burns has proven what she said, “Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic, and the courage to lean in.”