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The promotion of Ursula Burns to the top position at Xerox Corporation marked two milestones: the first time an African- American woman was named CEO of a major American corporation and the first time a woman succeeded another woman in the top posi- tion at a company of this size. She replaced Anne Mulcahy, who held the job for several years.34 After the promotion, Burns had to endure countless interviews from media representatives. They wanted to know if she was ready to cope with the pressures that come with the top job. Her response was, “I’m a black lady from the Lower East Side of New York; not a lot intimidates me.”35 Burns is known to be tough and someone who has the courage to speak her mind. In the early 1990s, her candor at a meeting of the top Xerox executives set the stage for a major promo- tion. She and other managers were invited to attend the meeting and instructed to sit off to the side. Paul Allaire, then president of the company, would often declare, “We have to stop hiring.” Yet Xerox continued to hire new employees, month after month. At one of the meetings, Burns raised her hand and said, “I’m a little confused. If you keep saying, ‘No hiring’ and we hire a thousand people every month, who can say ‘No hiring’ and make it actually happen?” Soon after the meeting, Allaire invited her into his office, thanked her for her candor, and made her his ex- ecutive assistant.36 Burns is working hard to create a culture of candor where leaders communicate honestly. She doles out radical honesty when needed, but has learned to temper her outspokenness. Burns says she is the beneficiary of good coaching and feed- back from her business associates.

Why is a culture of candor especially important tant when a company is nearing bankruptcy?
The early years offered Ursula Burns many challenges. She was the middle of three chil- dren of a single mother who took in ironing and babysat in a Manhattan project. How can these early life challenges help prepare someone for the executive ranks of a major corporation?

 
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