In Her New Memoir, Ursula M. Burns Recounts Blazing a Trail to the Top of Xerox

There’s a thriving commerce in what are generally known as “executive book summaries.” These are CliffsNotes for the harried managerial class. New enterprise books are crunched down to a few pages of bullet factors, so supervisors can eat them on the run.

Ursula M. Burns is the former chief government of Xerox, a job she held from 2009 to 2016. She was the first Black feminine C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 firm. When her new memoir, “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are,” will get executive-summarized, the bullet factors will in all probability be apparent.

Burns provides credit score for her success to her single mom, a hardworking Panamanian immigrant on welfare who raised three youngsters in a tenement house on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Burns prints classes derived from her formidable mom all through her memoir, and he or she isolates the six key takeaways on the ultimate web page.

Her mother’s recommendation is strong, and compact sufficient to print right here in its entirety:

“Leave behind greater than you’re taking away.

“Don’t let the world occur to you. You occur to the world.

“God doesn’t like ugly.

“Take care of one another.

“Don’t do something that wouldn’t make your mom proud.

“Where you’re is just not who you’re (and keep in mind that once you’re wealthy and well-known).”

This is the P.R.-handout model of the classes in Burns’s e book. The actual story is healthier. It’s grittier, extra sophisticated. There’s an alternate set of takeaways from this e book, concepts which can be seemingly to imply a lot to different outsiders who’re, painstakingly, attempting to shinny up the greasy pole of elite company tradition.

Lesson one: Prepare for tradition shock. Unlike many different C.E.O.s, Burns had no early familiarity with Nantucket or Jackson Hole or socially advantageous schools. She attended Brooklyn Polytech, now generally known as Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

“Skiing? What was that?” she writes. “Tennis? Really? Swimming? No way. I’m convinced that the colleges that require a swimming test for graduation created that requirement to keep poor kids from applying.”

Burns nonetheless doesn’t understand how to swim. And you gained’t see her enjoying golf, regardless that it was a favourite exercise of Vernon Jordan, one of her mentors. Once she turned comparatively rich, Burns writes, she nonetheless didn’t ski. She realized that she may get pleasure from life on her personal phrases.

Lesson two: Marry an older man. This one could also be controversial, however it labored for her. Burns married a Xerox scientist 20 years her senior. He retired and took care of their youngsters, enabling the writer, who’s one of life’s born workaholics, to concentrate on her firm.

Ursula M. Burns, in 2010, at the Xerox headquarters in Norwalk, Conn.Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Lesson three: Affirmative motion issues. Burns was helped by the social applications of the 1960s and 1970s, and couldn’t have attended school with out them. She writes, about the classes of affirmative motion: “I love the phrase ‘Talent is evenly distributed. Opportunity is not.’”

Lesson 4: Don’t be too good. “The Xerox family suffers from ‘terminal niceness,’” she as soon as stated in a speech to the firm’s gross sales reps. She didn’t assume anybody must be gratuitously imply. But too usually, she writes, we fail to say what we imply, and at Xerox folks generally “supported each other’s mediocrity.”

Lesson 5: Let them see you sweat. Once she turned C.E.O., Burns knew she had blind spots as a chief. She didn’t worry counting on the experience of others.

Lesson six: Read these books: Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom,” Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” and W.E.B. Du Bois’s collected essays. Why? Because early in her profession, Jordon advised her too, and he was proper.

Lesson seven: You don’t have to be an extrovert. Burns was by no means the kind to linger too lengthy in the hospitality tent, although she discovered to come out of her shell. My favourite line on this e book could also be, “Most of my living is between my two ears, and always has been.”

Lesson eight (and right here I get off observe, however this e book is just not all boardroom discuss): Don’t fly to Japan on a personal aircraft. “When I became C.E.O.,” Burns writes, “I rarely flew in our own plane to Japan because of an irrational fear that if the plane went down in the China Sea and it was only me and the pilots, the rescuers might not look as hard for survivors as they would if a big airliner went down.”

That’s recommendation I’ll preserve in my again pocket.

Burns was at or close to the high of Xerox throughout existentially attempting occasions. As it struggled to transfer into the info economic system and away from the tanklike copy machines (these have been on view at the Smithsonian Institution) that outlined it for many years, the firm almost went bankrupt. Difficult decisions — outsourcing jobs was one of these — had to be made. Burns’s mission: to discover the upside amid a lot of draw back.

There are lots of different worthwhile issues in “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are”: accounts of serving on the company boards of corporations like American Express and Exxon Mobil; tangling with company activists like Carl Icahn; befriending and dealing with Barack Obama, after supporting Hillary Clinton throughout the 2008 election.

This e book has its gentle spots. It glides politely over a lot of materials. It generally leans on resonant generalities. The writer is an engineer at coronary heart, not a author, and her editor ought to have nixed the clichés that emerge, generally two to a sentence. (“I learned to put my cards on the table from the get-go.”)

If this e book is just not appreciably better-written than most enterprise tales — it’s not a literary memoir — it nonetheless actually reverberates. Burns has a new and necessary story to inform.

Lots of folks appeared out for the writer over the years. That’s maybe this e book’s most transferring lesson — that you would be able to’t do all of it by your self. She discovered to look out for others in flip.

You put down her e book recalling the phrases of the critic Albert Murray, who wrote: “It is always open season on the truth, and there never was a time when one had to be white to take a shot at it.”