When Ursula Burns started as an intern at Xerox more than 30 years ago, she had no idea that she would someday end up running the company. "I just chose to work," she says simply.

But it's safe to say that she probably wasn't entirely surprised. Burns -- who became the first African-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took the reins of Xerox (XRX) in 2009 -- has never lacked for confidence. "I learned from my mother that if you have a chance to speak, you should speak. If you have an opinion, you should make it be known."

Ursula BurnsBurns tells her personal story in "Makers: Women Who Make America," a new documentary film airing on Tuesday, Feb. 26. An initiative of PBS and AOL, the film chronicles the past 50 years of the women's movement, through the experiences of trailblazers like Burns and other pioneers in business, media and the workplace. (Check your local listings for air times.)

A summer internship turned into a full-time job in 1981, when Xerox hired Burns as soon as she completed her master's degree in mechanical engineering at Columbia University. It wasn't necessarily the predictable path for someone who grew up "very, very poor" in a Manhattan housing project, raised by a single mother "who was struggling to feed us properly and make sure that we got a good education," Burns recounts in the film.



A few years later, her mother's admonition to speak up brought Burns to the attention of Xerox senior executive Wayland Hicks when she challenged him over the role of women and minorities at the company. By 1990, she was Hicks's top assistant, starting her ascent up the corporate ladder. At the age of 51, almost three decades after joining the company as an intern, she was named CEO.

Both Forbes and Fortune magazine have consistently named Burns one of the most powerful women in business. But she remains down-to-earth. The day she got the top job, she says, she called home and her daughter answered. "I was made CEO today," she said. "Yeah," her daughter replied. "Wanna talk to Dad?"

Burns points out that her appointment wasn't the only history made that day. She took over the job from then-Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, making it the first female-to-female CEO transition in Fortune 500 history.


Read More about Makers: Women Who Make America,
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Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton Makes her Mark in Makers Documentary
First Woman IndyCar Driver: Danica Patrick
Nora Ephron on Real-Life Inspiration for 'When Harry Met Sally'


To see interviews with more than 150 Makers in business, politics, sports, arts and more, go to Makers.com.


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gigi11355

I went to Cathedral High School at the same times as Ursula Burns did. I was a year younger. I worked with Ursula during the summer months at Central Park. I can not tell you what a great person she is/was back then. I had a blast. There was a few of us that stuck together those summers, but she was the best. Her attitude and of course her sense of humor was amazing.
I just want her to know how so proud I am and continue to wish her more success!!! I never had a doubt, she was really intelligent then and was determined to succeed and she sure did!!!! I'm so happy that her hard work paid off.
I don't know if she would even remember me...but if you could pass this on I'd love for her I remember her and our summer work friendship and curious if she remembers the others like
Cathy etc. Please pass my email gigi11355@aol.com on to her if you can. If not just tell her I send
my best.

September 04 2013 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply