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The 3 Pieces of Advice Ursula Burns’ Mother Gave Her That Helped Her Become A Fortune 500 CEO

The former CEO of Xerox attributes much of her success to her mother's guidance

Source | | Nick Wolny

Unbelievable as it might seem, it took until 2009 for the first Black woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. It happened when Ursula Burns accepted the top role at . Now a  for enterprises like VEON, Diageo and Uber, Burns is the model of corporate success for anyone wanting to climb ranks and become a leader and pioneer in their chosen field. 

When times got tough in the C-suite, Burns says it was the pearls of wisdom her mother shared over the years that helped her pivot and make important decisions. “I don’t want to overemphasize this, but not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother and what she would think about what I just did. I often adjust my approach,” Burns said in a 2011 interview with Fast Company.

Here are three lessons Olga Burns taught her daughter that helped her become the  visionary she is today.

1. “If you get the chance to speak, then speak”

In 1990, a senior executive at Xerox named Wayland Hicks offered Burns a job as his assistant. At the time, Burns believed it would just be basic administrative or secretarial work. 

Then she realized she was thinking about it all wrong. It could be that, but it could also be her big break — if she took advantage of the opportunities presented each day. As Hicks’ assistant, Burns had the chance to rub shoulders with all the people her boss worked with. She worked hard to earn their respect and consideration, using her honesty and confidence as assets. 

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