After an influential career in which she demonstrated a commitment to diversity while breaking down barriers for the next generation of women leaders, Ursula Burns, retired Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation and VEON, Ltd., is the 2020 Billie Jean King Leadership Award recipient. The award will be presented at the Women’s Sports Foundation 2020 Salute to Women in Sport event on October 14.
Burns, the first Black woman to head a Fortune 500 company, has spent her extraordinary career breaking down barriers for the next generation of women leaders and advocating for gender and racial diversity in major companies.
Burns joined the Xerox Corporation as an intern in 1980 and spent most of her career with the company, rising to Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, roles in which she served from 2010-2017 and 2009-2016, respectively. She had held additional leadership roles in the company spanning corporate services, manufacturing and product development. As CEO, Burns led the company’s transformation from a global leader in document technology to the world’s most diversified business services company serving enterprises and governments of all sizes.
Since Burns retired from Xerox in 2016, there have been no other Black women and only four Black men Fortune 500 CEOs – a clear paucity of diversity at the highest echelons of corporate America, and the impetus for Burns’ continued advocacy for more women and Black voices at the table. She also helped launch The WomanMakers initiative, an outgrowth of The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history collection.
Burns, who regularly appears on Fortune’s and Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women, is a board director of Exxon Mobil, Nestlé and Uber. U.S. President Barack Obama appointed her to help lead the White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) from 2009-2016, and she served as. Chair of the President’s Export Council from 2015-2016 after service as vice chair from 2010-2015. In 2008, Burns was also named to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Board of Directors.
Applying her knowledge and expertise beyond the C-Suite, Burns also provides leadership counsel to several community, educational and nonprofit organizations including the Ford Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Corporation, Cornell Tech Board of Overseers, the New York City Ballet, and the Mayo Clinic, among others. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineers and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Burns is the 51st recipient of the Billie Jean King Leadership Award, which recognizes an individual or group who demonstrates outstanding leadership and makes significant contributions to the advancement of women through achievements in sport and the workplace.