When Ursula Burns was named the CEO of Xerox in 2009, it was hailed as a groundbreaking achievement: She was the first Black woman to head a Fortune 500 company. She took over at a critical time when the country was just coming out of the 2008 recession.
And as she writes in her new memoir, “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are,” Burns was well prepared for the job. She began at Xerox as an intern while studying mechanical engineering in college and worked her way up through the ranks for almost three decades before being named CEO.
Along the way, she was fortified by lessons taught to her by her mother and various mentors.
Host Tonya Mosley speaks with the former Xerox CEO about her new book.
Book Excerpt: ‘Where You Are Is Not Who You Are’
By Ursula Burns
I started writing this book well before the world as we knew it changed. Pre-pandemic and pre–social justice reawakening and pre–the end of the darkest four years in my life. I finally responded to the encouragements—“You have to write a book”—I received after speaking engagements and conversations. I must say that writing this book has been much, much harder than I thought it would be. Not only because of the before-and-after situation that we are still in the midst of, but also because it is hard for me to find a lot that is truly remarkable or book-worthy about my story. I am not being humble in that statement—the fact of the matter is that life happens one day at a time, and only in the retelling does it come together into remarkable, exciting, or insightful stories. In other words, you live your life not knowing the end of the story, and retell it only as if you knew what the outcome would be.
In this book I hope you see that good things can and do happen. I hope you see how much of a positive impact one person who is neither rich nor famous can have on the world. I hope you see that hard work, belief in yourself, and support by good people are the magic sauce.
As of this writing, the pandemic is still here, social justice is awakening, and post-Trump America is in inning number one, but I am optimistic about America and the world. As I love to say, the USA is not a zero-sum nation. I’ve seen over and over that it is not necessary for someone else to lose in order for me to win. Someone doesn’t have to starve for me to eat; someone doesn’t have to go without health care or an education for me to have them. America, the world is not playing a zero-sum game. I am optimistic.
Excerpt from Where You Are Is Not Who You Are: A Memoir by Ursula Burns. Published by Amistad. Copyright © 2021 HarperCollins.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.