The Inspiring Story of Ursula Burns, From Rags To Riches

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Ursula Burns was declared by Forbes to be the one of the world's most powerful woman back in 2009. She still is, and all for good reason. 

Not only does she hold the highest position in one of the biggest multinational companies in the US,  Ms. Burns is also the first African-American woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. 

In 2012, Xerox made a revenue of $22.4 billion, and in 2012, it was reported that Ursula's total earnings was around $13 million. Not bad for a New Yorker who started small, eh?

Steady Climb To Success

Born on the 20th of September, 1958, Ursula Burns was raised by a single mother in one of New York City's low-income housing communities. She, and her 2 other siblings (she was the middle child) went to Catholic School. Her mother wanted her children to get a good education despite their situation and persevered in providing for them. 

Little did she know how she would succeed in her endeavors.

A Natural Talent for Numbers

Little Ursula discovered how much she loved Math as a subject, and made her way through school possessing a great brilliance in numbers. She didn't want to teach or become a nurse, like what her teachers wanted her to do. She wanted to do great things, and great things she did.

She went to college and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering in 1980 from the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, and went on to get a master of science in Mechanical Engineering in 1981 from Columbia University. 

Columbia University's graduate program's tuition was subsidized by the Xerox Corporation and as part of the program, all students were required to do a summer internship with the company. When she finally got her degree, she decided to be a part of it full time. 


Ursula Burns was hardworking and serious about her job. She had a noteworthy work ethic and steadily climbed her way up the corporate ladder of Xerox. She was entrusted to keep a close eye on different areas in the company such as product development, manufacturing, engineering, and marketing. 

Overcoming Prejudice

Ms. Burns like so many other women out there, received her fair share of criticisms as she was making her own name through Xerox. There were whispers that the reason she became such a hit at the company was because she was favored, not because of her work ethic, but because she was a member of a disadvantaged group who deal with discrimination. 

But Ms. Ursula was known for her performance, and she argued that she broke through the ranks not because she was black or she was a woman, but because of her hard work and perseverance, qualities she could only get from her mother. 

In 1999, Ms. Burns became the Corporate Vice President and a year after that, she was appointed as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Services. In 2001, she became the President of the Document Systems Solutions Group, and 6 years after that, she was named Xerox's president. 

But Ms. Burns was not quite done with her achievements just yet. In 2007, at the time she became president, she was also elected as one of the Board of Directors for the company. In 2009, at 50 years old, she became CEO of Xerox Corporation Ltd.

Ursula Burns, An Inspiration to all Women

Ms. Burns refused to be held back by what society wanted her to become. How she did it is just a fine example of how we should not let poverty stop us from succeeding in life. She had a dream, and she dared achieve it through hard work and determination. 

Here are some of the lessons we can learn from her life:

  • You are who you think you are, not what people think of you.
  • Being an African-American woman isn't something that should stop you from realizing your ambition. Make it your strength.
  • When you work harder, you'll be able to climb up much faster. 

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"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Isaac Newton

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