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Sunday, 12 September, 2010 0:14 AM

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns says struggling companies can be turned around

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Xerox Corporation Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns addresses the Detroit Economic Club on Sept. 8, 2010.
by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

DETROIT -- Ursula Burns was raised by a single mother in the Baruch Houses, a housing project in New York City. She attended Cathedral High School, a Catholic, all-girls school and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Plytechnic Institute of NYU in 1980. Burns received a bachelor of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University the next year.

Now, she is the CEO of Xerox Corporation, where she has led a major turnaround to profitability. Burns is the first African-American woman CEO to head a S&P 100 company and a Fortune 500 company. Forbes Magazine rated her the 14th most powerful woman in 2009.

"In March of 2000, we realized Xerox was headed into chaos," Burns said. "We focused on cash generation and liquidity to strengthen our business. We made decisions quickly. These are things companies to do."

The Xerox chairwoman and CEO said that our nation has gone from No. 1 to No. 12 for college graduation rates. She said our country will be ranked 16th this year. Our poverty rate is significantly higher, Burns said. Meanwhile, the number of jobs in science, engineering and math are growing.

Turning around a struggling company is all about the quality of people and the amount of innovation. "Great people focused on a common goal," is the best way to deliver, according to Burns. "There is a shrinking pool of young people with the skills to innovate. It takes a lot longer to grow an engineer than get elected."

In regards to education, the Xerox CEO unveiled her three-step plan for success. First, there needs to be a larger diverse group of math and science teachers. Secondly, give students the inspiration. Tell them what jobs they can get with a degree in their field. Third, measure what we want the outcome to be.

Burns said she has mixed feelings about charter schools. "They can fundamentally imrpve teaching, but the problem is taking from other schools that may not be best use," she said. "I've seen some charter schools that are really, really good."

Xerox Corporation has had seven CEOs and two of them have been women.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Detroit Media Partnership CEO Susie Ellwood introduces Ursula Burns.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Burns listens as she is introduced at the Detroit Economic Club meeting.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

About 250 people were in attendance at the meeting inside the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Burns is the only African-American CEO to lead a Fortune 500 company.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Xerox Corporation Chairwoman and CEO Ursula Burns

 

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