Ursula Burns (Chairwoman & CEO Xerox)
She is the first African-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company.
Burns was raised by a single mother in the Baruch Houses, a New York city housing project. Both of her parents were Panamanian immigrants. She attended Cathedral High School, a Catholic all-girls school on East 56th Street in New York. She went on to obtain a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of NYU in 1980 and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University a year later.
In 1980, Burns first worked for Xerox as a summer intern, permanently joining a year later, in 1981, after completing her master's degree. She worked in various roles in product development and planning in the remainder of the 1980s throughout her 20s.
In January 1990, her career took an unexpected turn when Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive, offered Burns a job as his executive assistant. Initially fearing that this would be a dead-end job, she accepted anyway and quickly rose through the ranks. In June 1991, she became executive assistant to then chairman and chief executive Paul Allaire. In 1999, she was named vice president for global manufacturing.
In 2000, Burns was named a senior vice president and began working closely with soon to be CEO Anne Mulcahy, in what both women have described as a true partnership. Nine years later, in July 2009, she was named CEO, succeeding Mulcahy, who remained as chairwoman until May 2010.