Yale School of Management

Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns Discusses Women and the Workplace

Becton Fellowship Program

As the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, Ursula Burns “changed the cultural dynamics in U.S. corporate culture,” said Timothy Collins ’82, who moderated a discussion with Burns at the Yale School of Management on April 30.

Appointed CEO of Xerox in 2009, Burns helped the company transform from a global leader in document technology to a diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes. She also served as chairman of the board.

Burns spoke at Yale SOM as part of the Becton Fellowship Program. Led by Collins, a senior Becton fellow and Yale SOM Board of Advisors chair, the program brings distinguished leaders from around the world to Yale for lectures, classroom visits, and candid conversations.

Burns, who now serves as executive chairman of VEON—a NASDAQ and Euronext Amsterdam listed global provider of internet connectivity—shared her thoughts on a diverse range of issues. She weighed in on the “hair decision” that African-American women face in the workplace, the qualities that great leaders share, why the U.S. needs a strong military (“The world is not nice”), and why professional women are due a leg up the corporate ladder today.

Burns also shared the qualities she looks for when recruiting. An outspoken mind and fearlessness are among them. “Everybody we hire is smart,” she said, but “I need a brilliant person who can sit in front of me and change my mind.”

Watch the discussion:

About the Event

Please join us on Monday, April 30 from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. for a conversation with Ursula Burns, executive chairman, VEON. Burns was the chairman of the board of the Xerox Corporation from 2010 to 2017 and chief executive officer from 2009 to 2016. During her tenure as chief executive officer, she helped the company transform from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes.

The talk is presented as part of the Becton Fellowship Program.

The Becton Fellowship Program, led by Senior Becton Fellow and Yale SOM Board of Advisors Chair Timothy Collins ’82, hosts distinguished leaders from around the world for lectures, classroom visits, and candid conversations with students and faculty at Yale SOM and elsewhere at Yale. The Becton Fellowship Program was established in 1980 by medical device manufacturer Becton, Dickinson & Company in honor of company Chairman Henry P. Becton YC ’37.

This event is open to the public.

Ursula Burns has extensive international experience of large companies confronting technology change of their industries.
 
Ursula Burns was the chairman of the board of the Xerox Corporation from 2010 to 2017 and chief executive officer from 2009 to 2016. From July 2017, the Supervisory Board appointed Burns as chairman of VEON’s Supervisory Board. In March 2018 she was appointed executive chairman of VEON.
 
She joined Xerox as an intern in 1980 and during her career she has held leadership posts spanning corporate services, manufacturing, and product development. She was named president in 2007.
 
During her tenure as chief executive officer, she helped the company transform from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes. Shortly after being named CEO in 2009, she spearheaded the largest acquisition in Xerox history, the $6.4 billion purchase of Affiliated Computer Services.
 
Most recently in 2016, she led Xerox through a successful separation into two independent, publicly traded companies—Xerox Corporation, which comprises the company’s Document Technology and Document Outsourcing businesses, and Conduent Incorporated, a business process services company. The separation of the two businesses has enhanced their competitive positions and created significant value creation opportunities.
 
Burns, who regularly appears on Fortune’s and Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women, is a board director of American Express, Exxon Mobil, Nestlé, VEON, and Uber. U.S. President Barack Obama appointed her  to help lead the White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) from 2009 to 2016, and she served as chair of the President’s Export Council from 2015 to 2016 after service as vice chair 2010 to 2015.
 
She also provides leadership counsel to several other community, educational, and nonprofit organizations including the Ford Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Corporation, Cornell Tech Board of Overseers, the New York City Ballet, and the Mayo Clinic among others. Burns is a member of the National Academy of Engineers and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  
 
Burns holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

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