“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” — Colossians 3:23
In the new book “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are” written by Ursula Burns, the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the author looks back at her life and career at Xerox. She shares her unique insights on how American business and corporate life looks from within, describes in detail how she has always valued, racial and economic justice, and lastly, she shares how greed is threatening democracy, and the obstacles she’s conquered being Black and a woman.
Ursula Burns once said “I am a Black woman, I do not play golf, I do not belong to or go to country clubs, I do not like NASCAR, I do not listen to country music, and I have a master’s degree in engineering. I, like a typical New Yorker, speak very fast, with an accent and vernacular that is definitely New York City, definitely Black. So when someone says I’m going to introduce you to the next CEO of Xerox, and the options are lined up against a wall, I would be the first one voted off the island.”
Shattering the glass ceiling and making headlines, the media missed the real story, when in 2009, she was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Xerox Corporation. Burns insists. “It should have been ‘how did this happen? How did Xerox Corporation produce the first African American woman CEO?’ Not this spectacular story titled, ‘Oh, my God, a Black woman making it.’”
In this smart, no-nonsense book, Ursula shares with readers how dedication to education and hard work expected of her children from her Panamanian mother, Olga Racquel Burns — a licensed child care provider whose highest annual income was $4,400 — who set no limits on what her children could achieve made the difference. In her book, which is part memoir and part cultural critique, Burns writes in an intriguing manner of her journey from low-income housing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the highest echelons of the corporate world. Ursula recounts her own dedication to education and hard work. Instead of self-pity, she took advantage of the opportunities and social programs created by the civil rights and women’s movements to pursue engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York.
Burns also writes about how overcoming the barriers she faced made her the woman she is today, and that her childhood adversities prepared her for challenges and realities of the corporate world. Her classmates and colleagues, almost all white males, “couldn’t comprehend how a Black girl could be as smart, and in some cases, smarter than they were. They made a developed category for me, calling me Unique. Amazing. Spectacular. That way they could accept me.”
Her 35-year career at Xerox was all about fixing things, from cutting millions to save the company from bankruptcy to a daring $6 billion acquisition to secure its future.
This trailblazer also worked closely with President Barack Obama as a lead on his STEM initiative and chair of his Export Council, where she traveled with him on an official trade mission to Cuba and became one of his greatest admirers.
Candid and outspoken, Ursula offers a remarkable look inside the c-suites of corporate America through the eyes of a Black woman, someone who puts humanity over greed and justice over power. Empathetic and dedicated, idealistic and pragmatic, Ursula demonstrates that, no matter your circumstances, hard work, grit and a bit of help along the way can change your life — and the world. In 2014, Forbes rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.
Ursula Burns has proven with her life that where we are is not who we are — the message my mother taught her children, too! Scripture tells us, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.