May 22nd 2009 at 9:30AM
Changes in the corner office come a dime a dozen, especially during this time of economic turmoil, but there is one on the horizon that is a testament to how far our nation has come since the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements.
On Thursday, Anne Mulcahy, who earlier this decade spearheaded a multibillion-dollar turnaround at Xerox (XRX), announced that she would retire but would remain chairman of the board. Filling Mulcahy's spot is Ursula Burns, a Xerox veteran, who may soon become a household name.
Why? Burns is set to become the first African-American female CEO to lead a Fortune 500 company. The leadership change also marks the first time that the baton was passed directly to another female executive at a Fortune 500 firm.
Burns joined Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern and climbed her way up the corporate ladder, with roles including product development and planning, heading up manufacturing and supply chain operations. In April 2007, Burns was named president of Xerox and will take over the CEO role in July.
"It is humbling to follow such a great leader and to serve as CEO of such a great company," Burns said in a statement. "I'm grateful for the opportunity and, like Anne, focused on creating value for our customers, our people, our shareholders and our communities."
In a male-dominated corporate America, fewer than 3 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 firms are women. And while Burns' ascension to the top shatters the glass ceiling once again for female executives, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Diversity within the rank and file is just as key as diversity in the corporate suite. Tapping into different perspectives from a diverse pool of employees can only help contribute to a company's bottom line.
While Burns' appointment symbolizes a major milestone in corporate America, she will be judged by how she is able to steer the printer and copier giant out of a revenue slump that has weighed on the company during the recession.
She just spoke at a friend of a friend of mine's commencement. That person said that she gave a pretty great speech.