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Xerox CEO credits mom, hard work for success

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by Matthew Daneman, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

ursulaburnsThe teachers at her all-girls Catholic high school pushed Ursula Burns to be a teacher, nurse or nun — those being the typical career options for a young woman in the 1970s.

Burns, raised by a single mother in Manhattan housing projects, instead went to college to be a chemical engineer — that being a well-paid profession.

Neither happened.

Instead, she switched to mechanical engineering and then landed a job at Xerox Corp., where supervisors “made it plain and made it simple — if you worked hard … you could get somewhere in the world.”

Not quite 30 years later, the CEO of Xerox Corp. was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County’s annual Empowering Women luncheon. Before more than 1,200 people at the Riverside Convention Center, Burns talked largely about her personal history, crediting her mother, teachers and mentors at Xerox for her rise through the corporate ranks.

“When I was that little girl growing up, my story seemed unimaginable,” she said. “I had class against me, gender against me and race against me.”

But pointing to examples such as President Barack Obama and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, Burns said, “Soon it will be totally unremarkable.”

She took over the helm of the company earlier this year, replacing retired CEO Anne M. Mulcahy and becoming the first African-American woman to be chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.

Last month Burns made her biggest splash as CEO — the $6.4 billion acquisition of Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., Xerox’s largest such deal.

ACS employs 74,000 globally, compared with Xerox’s 54,700, including 6,900 in the Rochester area.

While it’s too early to say how the purchase might affect the local work force, Burns said, “It’s more of an acquisition that expands revenue than cuts costs.”

However, she added, “There clearly will be areas that are redundant. But we haven’t looked at that geographic mix.”

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Written by Symphony

October 10, 2009 at 5:10 am

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