Copied from Life: Xerox CEO Speaks her Mind

20/06/2011 North America

Ursula M. Burns, the CEO of Xerox Corporation, was the invited guest at the WSJ's Viewpoints Executive Breakfast Series in June, where she talked about how Xerox transformed itself from a company that manufactures business machines to one that provides business process services.

"We realized we had a lot more to offer clients than we were offering. We started transforming not because we saw a plateau in our market or a weakness in our fundamental strategy. Xerox made a business out of the copying machine. We didn't stop innovating but we stopped transforming and we realized that customers were asking us to transform their document-intensive processes. So we started a small services business and the more we did for customers the more they wanted from us. We found a large business process outsourcing company that had needs that we could support and we had needs that they could meet. We bought them and catapulted ourselves from a small document services company to a business process company. It's the primary source of our growth, but we're still a technology company."

Burns is one of only 12 women in the world who is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and the only African-American woman. She puts her success down to opportunity and hard work. "I was raised to work hard. Nothing came easily, and even if it did my mother pretended it was hard. She was very clear that our job was to be educated and to be good contributors to the world. Then I had the luck to work for a great company. Xerox didn't seem to care where I came from. They kept saying, 'you do this and you do it well, how about the next thing?' The reason they hired me and not a drone is because they wanted me to contribute something, so I thought part of what I was supposed to do was speak my mind. If you have an idea of how to solve a problem and you sit in a room and don't contribute, what are you doing there? So I speak my mind, though I've learned that there are things that are appropriate to say and things that aren't. I realized early on that, because I was the only black woman, people remembered who I was. So if I did good work, people noticed."