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Encouraging innovation: O&A with xerox chairman and ceo ursula burns.

When Burns joined Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern, the company was the leader in the global photocopying market. As she later assumed roles in product development and planning, the company was securing its leadership position in digital document technologies. From 1992 through 2000, Burns, at a pivotal point in the company's history, led several teams including Xerox's color business and its office network printing unit.

Burns was named chief executive officer in July 2009 and on May 20, 2010, Burns became chairman. Today she leads more than 140,000 Xerox people, who serve clients in more than 180 countries.

Burns earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of NYU and a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University.

In addition to the Xerox board, she is a director of the American Express Corporation and Exxon Mobil Corporation. Burns also provides leadership counsel to community,

Financial Executive sat down with Ms. Burns in anticipation of her general session keynote during FEI's Annual Leadership Summit.

Q What's been the most surprising thing you learned about becoming CEO? [BURNS: I've spent my career at Xerox and I know we have the most dedicated and passionate employees committed to customers and delivering excellence. We have a strong and iconic brand known all over the world, and a corporate philosophy of pushing ourselves to do better for our customers. All of these things contributed to my progression at the company educational and non-profit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), National Academy Foundation, MIT, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. She is a founding board director of Change the Equation, which focuses on improving the U.S. education system in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In March 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Burns vice chair of the President's Export Council.

When I became CEO, there was a shift I needed to make from focusing on individual business objectives to serving the people of Xerox more specifically. I am here to do what's needed for the rest of the 140,000 people to succeed in their goals.

One of the very early surprises that came to me shortly after being named CEO was the attention paid to the female-to-female CEO handoff, from Anne Mulcahy to me--which at Xerox we didn't think much about at all. I guess we should have seen that attention coming, but we really didn't.

Q While we're on the subject of leadership, I want to talk more about leadership style. In your opinion, do you think it is better for a leader to be a specialist or a generalist?

BURNS: Leaders come from all kinds of places, so putting them in these two categories doesn't work for me. You can't be a specialist in everything, yet you can't be a generalist in everything either. Leaders need to stay true to who they are and where they come from. Whether you come from finance, sales and marketing or you're an engineer like me, you bring that sensibility to the job, and you work with really smart people in other areas to help round your perspective.

I am a true believer of diversity in all its forms, so at Xerox we celebrate different ideas and the people delivering them. If you come to one of our meetings, you'll see men and women from all around the world--Europe, Asia, Latin America and the US. It's really inspiring.

Q What role do you see financial executives--CFOs, treasurers and internal auditors--playing in the movement of innovation. Are they purely there for support, or can they spur innovation themselves?

BURNS: Lots of innovation happens in the Xerox labs. I'm sure you know our story, but innovation needs to come from everywhere, and that means both inside and outside the walls of the Xerox labs. So yes, even a financial team can come up with inventive ideas.

Our CFO, Kathy Mikells, is one of the most active and engaged individuals in our business, and she and her team work with our people around the company bringing innovative solutions to not only our own processes, but those of our customers.

Q How do you ensure the innovation you are bringing to market will create the value that we actually need? Put another way, how do you align what you can do to what your customers need?

BURNS: You don't direct research, you give it a context to thrive in and you create different models to help it succeed. Today, 57 percent of Xerox's revenue comes from our Services business, which encompasses everything from customer care, toll collection and parking solutions to managing benefits and health programs for government agencies. Our labs have evolved to deliver technology and services that are very close to our customers.

For example, the city of Los Angeles had on-street parking issues. With parking spots priced the same everywhere, people had zero incentive to park further away. So they circled the city until a spot came up near their destination. The LA DOT partnered with us to design a demand-based pricing solution and real-time parking heat maps. Our researchers took to the streets, poured over the analytics and created LA Park Express. Since it launched, parking congestion in the city has decreased by 10 percent. Spaces are easier to find and drivers are attracted to cheaper spots a little further away. That's our innovation solving real business problems for our customers.

Q How does Xerox ensure it stays ahead of the innovation curve? What role do your customers play in this?

BURNS: Everywhere I go around the world, I am always asking, "Why aren't we here helping this company or that hospital solve its problems?" Xerox, since the invention of Xerography 75 years ago, has been very good at taking very complex business processes and creating solutions that make them appear simple to the people who need them. Innovation is part of our DNA.

By the numbers, with Fuji-Xerox, we invested $1.3 billion in R&D and engineering in 2013. We have five research centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and India. We have more than 10,000 active U.S. patents. And, our world-renowned Palo Alto Research Center creates new innovations for Xerox as well as organizations in other industries as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Xerox people work closely with customers on solving specific business problems. We call them "dreaming sessions" with our research teams. Customers sit down with our researchers and talk about the complexities, barriers and bottlenecks in their business. And, together, they envision simpler ways that they'll then consider exploring in their work. It's a very powerful and meaningful way to engage and collaborate with our customers.
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Title Annotation:INTERVIEW
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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