Ursula Burns: "Where You Are Is Not Who You Are"
December 19, 2011
Xerox CEO Ursula Burns received a standing ovation from Exonians recently at the end of her straight-talking assembly presentation. "You are in one of the best schools in the world," said Burns, the 1st African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company and the 1st woman to succeed another as head of a Fortune 500 company. "With that comes a huge amount of responsibility."
Burns shared with students the lesson instilled in her by her mother while growing up impoverished on the Lower East Side of Manhattan: "Where you are is not who you are." For Burns as a child, this meant getting an education and moving out of the housing projects, which were so dangerous that it was "not safe to leave the house at nightfall," Burns explained. Reinforcing her mother's words, Burns said to the students, "It takes a bit more to be a good person than where you are sitting right now."
Her advice to Exonians came in 6 simple lessons:
1. "Work really, really hard."
2. "Set the highest expectation possible."
3. "Make sure you're used to change."
4. "Have fun."
5. "Make sure you're true to yourself."
6. "Do good in the world."
After assembly, Burns met with over 50 students of color for an open Q-and-A session.
She then attended a combined class of The Ethics of the Marketplace and Global Ethics: What's Wrong with the World? Burns fielded many questions including, "How do you balance profit against social values in a corporation?" "What are your thoughts on the importance of sustainability in the business world?" "What is your relationship with President Obama and what do you think of him?" and "What are your thoughts on theories relating to moral hazard and 'too big to fail'?"
— Nicole Pellaton