Business

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns on how she transformed the company

The first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, Ursula Burns has led a half decade of change at Xerox that has remade it from a copying and printing company into a business practice outsourcing firm.

Copying and printing still a mainstay, but now it is an outsourcing firm for business practices

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns has led a half decade of change at Xerox, transforming the company into a business outsourcing firm. (CBC)

In the era of the paperless office, what future is there for the company that pioneered copying and printing?

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns says a bright one – leveraging the strength is gained as a household name synonymous with copying to undertake a transformation that makes it equally indispensable for its clients.

The first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, Burns has led a half decade of change at Xerox that has remade it into a business practice outsourcing firm.

We still have a lot of transformation to go, but it’s not around what are you going to be, it’s around how quickly and how large can you be what you are- Xerox CEO Urusula Burns

Burns says the two new pillars of the business are customer care – meaning any kind of engagement that an enterprise has with its customer —  and financial accounting, a core for any business.

“Over the years, well before this big step transformation started, we drifted by customer requirement into more and more growth services – we not only manage the technology for printing and copying but manage more of the business processes for them,” Burns said in an interview with CBC’s The Exchange with Amanda Lang.

The services business began with document management, including managing enterprise print and copying infrastructure and managing the archiving and retrieval of your documents. It was a $3-billion a year business even before Burns began to transform Xerox.

In 2010, Burns pushed through the acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, an outsourcing company, for $6.4 billion US. 

Expansion in insurance, transportation

She also expanded into insurance – managing claims forms for a health insurer – and transportation – handling process such as customs and bills of lading.

Burns takes the example of IBM to heart – another hardware company that made the transition to a provider of services. Trained in mechanical engineering, she began her career at Xerox as an intern in 1980 and rose through its ranks.

She says the company has built on the base of its copying and printing products, but is not ready to give up that line of business.

“It’s really important to understand that the amount of revenue you get from this, and very important, the amount of effort and cash is admirable  ...We’re not ready to walk away from it,” she said.

Xerox remains a leader in copying and printing in Canada and in many other markets, she said. Burns sees ways to leverage that dominance to move into new services fields – from answering queries to managing social media.

Global prospect

She said there’s “no question” that the company’s transformation is successful enough to provide it with future streams of revenue from services. And change won’t stop – as technology continues to impact the way Xerox customers do business.

“The next question is how big can we be, how impactful can we be on a global basis in that portion of the marketplace,” Burns said.

“So we’re established as a services company. We still have a lot of transformation to go, but it’s not around what are you going to be, it’s around how quickly and how large can you be what you are.”

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