In 1980, Ursula Burns (1958– ; Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science 1982) first worked for Xerox as a summer intern, permanently joining a year later, in 1981, after completing her master's degree. She worked in various roles in product development and planning throughout the 1980s.
In January 1990, her career took an unexpected turn when Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive, offered Burns a job as his executive assistant. She accepted and worked for him for roughly nine months before becoming executive assistant to then-chairman and chief executive Paul Allaire. In 1999, she was named vice president for global manufacturing. In 2000, Burns was named a senior vice president and began working closely with soon-to-be CEO Anne Mulcahy, in what both women have described as a true partnership. Nine years later, in July 2009, Burns made headlines when she became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company, succeeding Mulcahy, who remained chairman until May 2010.
In addition to being a member of the Xerox board, she is a board director of American Express Corporation, Exxon Mobil Corporation, and Datto Inc. Burns also provides leadership counsel to community, educational, and nonprofit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), National Academy Foundation, MIT, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. She is a founding board director of Change the Equation, which focuses on improving the U.S. education system in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).