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Ursula Burns

Businesswoman and CEO

Who is Ursula Burns? 

Ursula Burns was raised by an amazing mother in public housing projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She was often told that she had three strikes against her. She was block, a girl, and poor. But her mother never saw it that way. “Where you are doesn’t define who you are,” she would often say. She knew that education was Ursula’s way to prove everyone wrong and managed to send her to a good school despite her modest income. 

It was here that Burns began to dream of a career as an engineer. That dream was actualized when Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute offered her admissions as a freshman. However, the dream wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. She was one of the only black faces in a largely white classroom. She had plenty of catch-up courses to pass. She was in a new place with new people who all seemed smarter than her. She switched from chemical engineering to mechanical engineering. But she persevered! 

She was able to take an internship with Xerox in upstate New York, attend an Ivy League school for her graduate degree, signed on with Xerox, and then climbed the ladder to the very top! As CEO, Burns was able to complete a major acquisition, transforming the company from simply printing to a technology and services enterprise. She is the first African American woman to lead an S&P 500 company and in 2015, she helped generate roughly $18 billion in revenue. 

“Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic, and the courage to lean in,” she says. “That’s why I spend so much time with organizations that help minorities and women gain the education and self-respect they need to take risks, to dream big, and, I hope, to someday pay it forward.” 

3 Things We Love About Ursula Burns:

  • She is a founding member of Change the Equation, a CEO-led non-profit program to boost STEM education. 
  • In 2014, Forbes rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.
  • In 2009, Burns was appointed by President Barack Obama to help lead the White House National STEM program, which encourages students to pursue STEM-related careers.

Work Cited

Ursula Burns—first Black woman CEO in Fortune 500—on work-life balance 

Ursula M. Burns shares her Lean In story. 

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