Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ursula Burns - Xerox CEO

Meet Ursula Burns, the current CEO at Xerox.  She was the first African American woman to head a Fortune 500 company and the first woman CEO to succeed a woman CEO.

While those accomplishments alone would be strong enough to qualify as a trailblazer, there are many other things about her ascension to Xerox that buttress that label.  I was introduced to her recently by the BusinessWeek issue on interviews.  During the interview she had a couple great quotes that hit at a couple of factors that influence the level of fear in an organization and influences the culture of corporate bravery among managers and leaders.

The first is individuality which she embraces and nurtures.  On that aspect she has this to say about how that aspect of corporate culture at Xerox helped her become the leader she is today,
Q: You’ve said Xerox (XRX) was a company where you could grow into yourself. What does that mean?A: They didn’t try to spend a lot of time trying to make me into something else—kind of fit into whatever would have been a normal hire. When I first entered the company, they just thought I was smart and said, “You go do some stuff.” And they kept giving me things to do. 
She continues in the interview with a great response to a question on failure,
Q: And you’ve said it takes a long time to recover from mistakes.A: We’re going to make mistakes. We just try to make mistakes where you can make them fast, so you’re not five years into the damn thing and realize, “Oh my God, that was a bad move. And we just threw billions of dollars after it.” Fail fast and make sure that you fail early. So the challenge is this whole balance.
While they may not embrace mistakes they understand that mistakes are a key part of the trial and error process that creates breakthrough products, services, and business models.  It appears to be a culture that doesn't punish mistakes and stifle creativity.

1 comment:

  1. I recently retired after 25 yrs atXerox and watched several CEO's come and go. I worked in a job that required interaction with many job types in Xerox from front line technicians and mailroom associates to VPs and Sr VPs and one thing I know is that Burns is the most hated CEO in Xerox history by far and is considered also the most incompetent. One bit of news that's rarely publicized is that large numbers of Xerox employees have had their salaries cut by up to 20+ % as one of many onerous cost savings initiatives and mostly the only reason that Xerox often meets WS earnings estimates. Of course this doesn't stop the incessant layoffs and total sense of INsecurity at Xerox. Things like this along with Ursula's out sized pay package have not exactly endeared her to her employees. A good portion of the Xerox board and Burns needs to go ASAP to give Xerox any chance at survival. These things are well known and commonly spoken of at the company. To bad Wall Street doesn't get it and refuses to force the change.