Q1 Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns: Xerox’s Dynamic Duo I n 1999, Xerox appointed Rick Thoman to be…


Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns: Xerox’s Dynamic Duo

I n 1999, Xerox appointed Rick Thoman to be its next CEO. A little more than a year later, with Xerox in financial crisis (as well as having accounting problems that resulted in a $10 million fine), Thoman’s predecessor stepped back in to take control and turned to a surprise candidate, Anne Mulcahy, to be his Number 2. On paper, it looked like a desperation choice. Fortune magazine called her the “accidental CEO.” But she immediately enlisted the strongest talent she could find. A key player was Ursula Burns, an engineering hotshot from Rochester who, despite her smarts, had an equally unlikely history. She had been raised in a housing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side by a hard-working single mother who cleaned, ironed, did child care—-anything to see that Burns got a good Catholic education and eventually a graduate degree in engineering from Columbia. Burns was promoted to first president of Xerox’s Business Group Operations, becoming the first woman to hold that position. She was responsible for the engineering center and five separate divisions; together her group brought in 80 percent of Xerox’s profits. AfricanAmericans with Burns’s background were not common at Xerox, but she never saw her race and low socioeconomic status as a liability. “My perspective comes in part from being a New York black lady, in part from being an engineer,” she said. “I know that I’m smart and have opinions that are worth being heard.” While Mulcahy crisscrossed the country reassuring employees and shareholders and refining a plan to save the company, Burns began implementing the plan and streamlining the company. She successfully negotiated a contract with union workers. With Burns’s streamlining and Mulcahy’s finesse, Xerox went from a company in trouble to one poised to become the leader in sales in its industry. Many at the company placed Burns on the list of Mulcahy’s potential successors. In 2007, it became official—-CEO Anne Mulcahy named Ursula Burns president. The appointment was made with expectation that Burns would move up when Mulcahy steps down. Burns also became the only inside director on the Xerox board besides Mulcahy. Burns will lead Xerox’s corporate strategy, marketing operations, and global accounts, while continuing to run research, engineering, marketing, and manufacturing of technology, supplies, and related services. Her promotion lays out a clear succession plan that eliminates uncertainty inside the organization. Ursula Burns has been described by many as articulate, knowledgable, energetic, and a straight shooter when dealing with people. Burns has been credited with increasing Xerox’s sales of color-capable printers and copiers, as the company brought to market 24 machines in the past two years amid competition from HewlettPackard and Canon. Because of Mulcahy’s and Burns’s leadership, Xerox today offers the broadest portfolio of document management systems and software in its industry and in the company’s history. Mulcahy credits Burns with this achievement, saying that she drove a technology strategy that launched more than 100 products in the last three years and strengthened Xerox’s business model, making it more efficient, competitive, and profitable. Go to the Internet: To learn more about Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns and Xerox, visit their Web site (http://www.xerox. com). Support your answers to the following questions with specific information from the case and text or with other information you get from the Web or other sources.

  1. In your opinion, are Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns leaders who exemplify charismatic or transformational leadership qualities?
  2. Immediately after Anne Mulcahy was appointed CEO, she tapped Ursula Burns to be her Number 2 and then president of Xerox. What transformational leadership qualities did Burns possess that made her the right person for the job?
  3. A key attribute of servant leadership is that it transcends self-interest to serve the needs of others. Does Ursula Burns fit this bill?
  4. Ursula Burns has already been picked as the next CEO to replace Anne Mulcahy when she steps down, likely making this the first time a woman CEO for a Fortune 500 company has turned over the reins to another woman. How would her close working relationship with Mulcahy affect her leadership style?
  5. Every leader has a sense of his or her personal meaning, described in the text as the degree to which people’s lives make emotional sense and to which the demands confronted by them are perceived as being worthy of energy and commitment. Based on the facts of the case, what are the sources from which Burns derives her personal meaning?


  1. According to the leadership continuum model of Tannenbaum and Schmidt, where would you put Ursula Burns based on the facts of the case (Chapter 5)?
  2. Communication is a major competency for leaders (Chapter 6). Would you agree that this is a quality that Burns likely possesses, to have been as effective as she has been so far?
  3. Leader–member exchange theory describes the type of relationship that often develops between leaders and followers (Chapter 7). How would you describe the dyadic relationship between Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns?
  4. One of the characteristics of effective teams is the presence of a capable and competent team leader (Chapter 8). Chapter 8 describes different activities of the team leader in creating an effective team (see Exhibit 8.1 on page 288), including turning obstacles into opportunities. Would you describe Ursula Burns as an effective team leader?

CAS E EX E R C IS E AN D RO LE -P LAY Preparation:

Assume you are part of the leadership of an organization or organizational unit that is in need of redirection in a changing market environment. Your task is to formulate a new vision and mission statement that would transform your organization. Role-Play: The instructor forms students into small groups to develop an inspiring vision of no more than 15 words and a mission statement of no more than 100 words. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Identify key environmental trends or changes that have influenced your group’s vision.
  2. Make up a list of core values that your organization holds, or you would want it to have, and incorporate these in your mission statement.
  3. Share your vision and mission statement with other members of the class and vote on who has the most inspiring and compelling vision and mission.

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