Biography of Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns, (born September 20, 1958, New York, New York)

Ursula is a business executive who served as chairman (2010–17) and CEO (2009–16) of the Xerox Corporation. She was the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She succeeded Anne M. Mulcahy

becoming the first female CEO to follow another in that role. 

Burns was raised in a low-income housing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She was the second of three children raised by a single mother who operated a home day-care center and took ironing and cleaning jobs to earn money to pay for Burns to attend Cathedral High School, a Roman Catholic preparatory school. Excelling at math, Burns later earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering (1980) from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn. In the same year, she began pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and joined Xerox as a summer mechanical-engineering intern through the company’s graduate engineering program for minorities, which in turn paid a portion of her educational expenses.

After completing a master’s degree in 1981, Burns joined Xerox as a full-time employee and quickly gained a role in product development. From 1992 she progressed through various roles in management and engineering, and in 2000 she became senior vice president of corporate strategic services, a position in which she oversaw production operations. The appointment eventually afforded Burns the opportunity to broaden her leadership in the areas of global research, product development, marketing, and delivery, and she was named president of Xerox in 2007. Two years later she was named CEO, and in 2010 she became chairman of the board.

Burns stepped down as CEO in 2016, and the following year she resigned as chairman of the board. She is currently a director of the boards of Exxon Mobil, Nestlé and Uber.

In 2009 U.S. Pres. Barack Obama selected her to help lead the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition, a national alliance of more than 1,000 technological organizations striving to improve student participation and performance in the aforementioned subject areas through legislative advocacy; she held the post until 2016. Burns was also a member (2010–16) of 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; she chaired the committee in 2015–16.

On 27 March 2018, Ursula was appointed as Executive Chairman of VEON. VEON’s Supervisory Board is undertaking a search for a new CEO, and once a replacement is named and installed, Ms. Burns will revert to her role as Chairman of the Board.