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Becoming Xerox CEO ‘shouldn't have been shocking’: Ursula Burns

In this article:
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Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns joins 'Influencers with Andy Serwer' to describe her time as chief executive of Xerox and discuss how business leaders can address diversity issues within the United States.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: You wrote though, on being the first Black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, what a ridiculous way to make history.

URSULA BURNS: Yeah.

ANDY SERWER: What did you mean by that?

URSULA BURNS: You know, the two things that you don't change in your life that you-- well, up until recently you couldn't change in your life, was your gender and your race. So the thing that struck me about it was that if you looked at my background, forget about the beginning, if you look at my accomplishments in life, at that point, I'd gone to two m very good schools, one of them Ivy League. I'd gotten a Master's degree in engineering. I had spent over 28 years in a single company. I had done most of the jobs in that company. So this shouldn't have been shocking. It wasn't-- it was-- I was-- the only thing that was different about me and other CEOs, the only thing was my gender and my race. These are two things that I love, but I didn't make. I didn't earn them. I just-- it was who I was.

And the thing that I was more upset about in this categorization is that it should have been a discussion about Anne Mulcahy was a CEO before me. She was a female CEO in a world where we probably had 10 at the time, and she-- that CEO moved it to another CEO who happened to be Black, so two females in a row, one white, one Black. My hope was that they would say, and we actually tried to move the conversation, how did this happen? How can this happen in Xerox? Because if we want more of this, we should probably look at what happened in this company and try to see if there's anything we can learn.

Instead, it was this shock and awe of, oh my god, look at her. She looks so different. I would say to people in the beginning, when I did the Fortune Magazine article-- they did a great thing on it, New York Times article-- if you look at it, you would say, oh, she did what those other guys did. She went to college, she got a job, she had experiences, she served on these councils, she was just like the other guys. She just looked differently.