by: Alexander Charles Xerox public relations coordinator

After only two weeks at my new Xerox job, I got the chance to meet our CEO Ursula Burns by chance one morning on the elevator.  Since it was my first opportunity to say hello, I wondered if the stories of calling her by her first name were true, or was it a lighthearted attempt to haze the new employee? Unsure, I went for the compromise with the respectful head nod.  I learned later that everyone calls her by her first name.

So when I was invited to attend Ursula’s interview at The Wall Street Journal’s Viewpoints Executive Breakfast Series last week I was thrilled.  The series is conducted by well-known journalist Alan Murray who interviews world-class leaders over breakfast with a  group of New York  executives in attendance.

photo by Gabe Palacio ©2011

Asked about her career path, Ursula shared personal insights. Some of her advice I know I’ll be sure to use. First, hard work and opportunity were and still are the keys to her success.  She noted that at Xerox, if you work hard, there are many opportunities to showcase your talent and grow. As a new employee, hearing hard work leads to opportunity is a welcome idea. I know it’s not a guarantee but it’s a fair proposition.

Second, she said speak your mind. Don’t be a drone. Differentiate yourself.  Speaking your mind is about value creation.  If you have an idea about solving a problem but don’t contribute, then what’s the point of your job?

On diversity, Ursula prefers culture to initiatives. If an organization does the right things along the way, it will have the right mix of talent. In Ursula’s case, starting out as a young, black female engineering intern, standing out only put a brighter spotlight on her good work.

As a young minority myself, to hear diversity framed as an opportunity to showcase your talent is remarkable.

After the interview, audience members who realized I was a Xerox employee told me what a wonderful leader we have. From what I heard, I have to agree. It’s said that an organization takes on the personality of its leader. If that’s the case, we’re in a very good position.