Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic and the courage to lean in. Ursula Burns was raised by a wonderful single mother in the rough public housing project of Baruch Houses in Manhattan, NY. Ursula had three strikes against her: black, female and poor. However, her mother didn’t see it that way. On a modest salary, Ursula’s mother managed to send her to good Catholic schools.
Ursula Burns did not allow her environment to define who she was and knew that education was her way up and out. It would have been so easy for Ursula to give-up on her dreams. But she didn’t; she embraced a series of “lean-in” moments: taking an internship with Xerox in upstate New York, going to an Ivy League school for a graduate degree. Ursula’s dreams did come true. She believes through a good education, a strong work ethic, and the courage to “lean-in,” anyone can improve their position.
In 2009, Ms. Burns became CEO of Xerox, making her the first black woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company. As the CEO of Xerox, Burns “greened-lighted” a major acquisition which transformed the company from a copy and printing firm to a technology and services enterprise. Forbes rated Ursula Burns the 22nd most powerful woman in the world. Among other civic positions, she was a leader of the STEM program for the White House from 2009 to 2016, and served as President Obama's chair of the Export Council.
Today, she is currently chairperson of VEON, a senior advisor to Teneo and will join the board of the beverage company Diageo and Uber. Ms. Burns works hard to serve as an inspiration to what is possible and to offer access to opportunities. She teaches young people how to “lean-back” and then “lean-in.” This is the reason Ursula works with so many organizations that help minorities and women gain the education and self-respect they need to take risks and to dream big. Ms. Burns believes in paying it forward.