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Ursula Burns, Chief Executive Officer at Xerox
Although many authorities agree that the glass ceiling is still in place, it is clear that it has at least been shattered somewhat with many women leading Fortune 500 companies today. Leading the charge has been Ursula Burns, chairman and chief executive officer at Xerox Corporation since July 2009, making her the first African-American woman to lead an S&P 100 corporation. This paper reviews the relevant literature to provide Burns' background, an analysis of her leadership style and philosophy and how they align with the corporate culture at Xerox, an examination of Burns' personal and organizational values and an evaluation concerning how Burns' values most likely influence ethical behavior at this company. Finally, an analysis of Burns' three greatest strengths and weaknesses is followed by a discussion concerning the quality that most contributes to this leader's success and an assessment concerning how communication and collaboration and politics influence group dynamics at Xerox. A summary of the research and important findings concerning Burns' leadership and attributes are provided in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Background of Ursula Burns
According to one biographer, "[Ursula Burns] was brought up by a single mother on a tough estate on Manhattan's Lower East Side" (Edwards, 2010, p. 21). Burns began her career at Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern and worked in various product development teams until 2000 (Ursula Burns, 2014). Promoted to senior vice president of Xerox in 2000, Burns was subsequently promoted again a few months later to senior vice president of corporate strategic services (Alleyne, 2010). In 2001, Burns was again promoted, this time to president of worldwide business services (Alleyne, 2010). In 2007, Burns became the president of Xerox with responsibilities for marketing, human resources, IT, corporate strategy, and global operations (Alleyne, 2010). In July 2009 at age 51 years, Burns became the first African-American woman to become the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of an S&P 100 corporation (Alleyne, 2010). At the time, Xerox was a $17.8 billion corporation with more than 57,000 employees and operations in more than 160 countries (Alleyne, 2010).
Analysis of Ursula Burns' Leadership Style and Philosophy and Their Alignment with Xerox's Corporate Culture
Her biographers emphasize that Burns achieved her current success by earning it and nothing has been handed to her at any point in her career and that her adaptive leadership style has been enormously effective. In this regard, Burns reports that, "I believe to be in this job because I earned it through hard work and high performance. Did I get some opportunities early in my career because of my race and gender? May be, but it cannot explain all" (Burns CEO, 2014, p. 2). Indeed, Burns subscribes to the philosophy that "leadership is earned through breadth and depth of experience, hard work, more hard work, character, values and putting solid, credible and consistent results on the board. Be ready, willing and able to give every ounce of your energy" (cited in Plata & Plata, 2014, para. 6).
In addition, Burns believes that it is necessary for her to be able to accurately forecast changes and identify new opportunities in the global business services sector and develop the corresponding strategies to help lead Xerox repurpose itself in the future (Brimhall, Greif & Buchsbaum, 2013). The adaptive leadership style used by Burns is highly congruent with the corporate culture at Xerox (Brimhall et al., 2013). In this regard, Brimhall and his associates report that, "Xerox has created a culture of empowerment and adaptability evidenced by the recent corporate expansions, outsourcing, and new product lines" (2013, p. 99).
Finally, Burns has inculcated a corporate culture that makes employees feel like members of a big family and promoted a better work-life balance for Xerox employees (Bryant, 2010). In fact, Burns described one aspect of Xerox's corporate culture as "Terminal niceness. We are really, really, really nice" (cited in Byrant, 2010, para. 4). This change in Xerox's corporate culture was due in part to a seminal study conducted by Xerox and the Ford Foundation, "Rethinking Life and Work" which determined that "employers that don't consider how employees' family and work responsibilities affect each other hinder an organization's ability to be fully productive" (Lewison, 2006, p. 46).
Examination of Ursula Burns' Personal and Organizational Values
Taken from an interview, Plata and Plata cite a number of personal and organizational values that characterize Burns including the following:
Turning complexity into simplicity
Respect for "time to market" work processes
Managing by fact
Dependency on the contributions of others to create the greater whole
Measuring and adapting (2014, para. 4).
According to Burns, "All of these are fundamental attributes of successful engineers and, I believe, successful leaders" (cited in Plata & Plata, 2014, para. 5). In addition, following the assumption of the CEO position by Burns, Xerox "transitioned toward empowerment, innovation, adaptability, ethical decision-making, authentic communication, and inclusion" (Brimhall et al., 2013, p. 99).
Evaluation Concerning How Ursula Burns' Values are Likely to Influence Ethical Behavior at Xerox
There are several personal and organizational values held by Burns that will inevitably influence ethical behavior at Xerox, including most especially her commitment to discipline and managing by fact. Perhaps the value possessed by Burns that is most likely to influence ethical behavior at Xerox, though, is her dependency on the contributions of others to create the greater whole which recognizes the value of employee efforts and motivates Xerox staff to perform accordingly. For instance, Xerox's Chief Technology Office, Sophie Vandebroek, states that, "Bright, diverse, and entrepreneurial people create an innovative culture that others want to be part of" (cited in It's all about people, 2013, p. 68). Finally, as chairman and CEO, Burns also approves the ethical guidelines for the company in its corporate governance set forth in its Code of Business Conduct.
Ursula Burns' Three Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses
Among her many strengths, the three greatest strengths possessed by Burns are problem solving, technological expertise, and the ability to effect meaningful change in unwieldy organizational settings. For instance, according to Alleyne (2010), "Burns is quite adept at fixing problems and changing the course of dire situations. An engineer by training, she thrives on such challenges" (p. 88). In addition, Alleyne cites Burns' demonstrated ability to champion change initiatives. In this regard, Alleyne notes that, "Over the last two decades, she developed a reputation at the company as a technologically focused, customer-oriented change agent. And she needed to draw on those skills when Xerox faced its own life-and-death struggle" (p. 88). Identifying three major weaknesses for an individual like Burns is difficult for a number of reasons, including her commitment to keep her private life private and her stellar track record of success to date. Despite these constraints, there are some weaknesses identified in the literature. For instance, according to Burns, her greatest weakness is impatience: "I'm impatient. Simple as that" (cited in Plata & Plata, 2014, para. 4). Another weakness of Burns is her inability to conceal her emotions. For instance, Mulcahy (2013) reports that, "She didn't have a good poker face -- all her emotions were visible. That's a big thing for a CEO, because everybody is looking at you" (para. 4). Although Burns has made progress in overcoming this weakness, Mulcahy (2013) suggests that she still has some work to do.
Finally, another of Burns' weaknesses (which is also a strength) is her engineering background which she admits remains her first love and she only became a leader as a result of her need to better understand how her engineering work could be used to make money and solve problems (Burns CEO, 2014). In this regard, Burns concedes that, "I wasn't especially motivated to go into business per se, or to become a business leader. My desire was to be an engineer" (Burns CEO, 2014, p. 3).
The Quality that Most Contributes to Ursula Burns' Success
During her tenure as Xerox CEO, Burns has consistently provided a bold vision of where she believes the company should be years from now with services accounting for a majority of the company's revenues. Although the global "printed page" market is valued at more than $130 billion, Burns believes the company's future lies in the provision of business services which is valued at $400 billion globally (Edwards, 2010). In this regard, Edwards reports that, "The market that Burns is aiming to dominate -- back-office services such as accounting, call-centre management and HR processing [has] higher margins" (2010, p. 21).
Moreover, she has actively taken the steps needed to achieve this vision. For example, Edwards reports that Burns "masterminded the integration of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), following its dollars $6.4 billion acquisition in 2009" (2010, p. 21). The acquisition of ACS expanded Xerox's presence in the nearly $600 billion business services sector as well as providing Xerox with the ability to more effectively compete in its primary markets (Ursula Burns, 2014). Likewise, the editors of…[continue]
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