Ursula Burns Shares Views and Lessons in France

By Sherry M. Adler

“France 2020: Winning in a Changing World.” The Mouvement des entreprises de France (MEDEF), the largest union of employers in France, tackled this issue at its summer forum. In fact, it held a special session devoted to this imperative.  MEDEF turned to Xerox chairman and CEO Ursula Burns for insights. (Watch this video; the 30-minute session begins at the 4:10 mark.)

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns
(CEO Ursula Burns) There’s more to the topics discussed at this special MEDEF session. To learn more, watch the video replay.

Ursula discussed and debated issues of significance to Xerox, which align with the vision of government and industry in France. Her messages talked to the future of business in France and the challenges associated with the need to change. They revolved around a number of high-level themes, including:

Innovation & Transformation

Xerox created an industry in we introduced the world’s first fully automatic, plain paper copier. We used technology to transform the way work got done. We still lead that segment of the market, and our temptation could have been to maintain the status quo and continue to turn a profit. However, we saw the changes on the horizon, and we applied our assets to extend our interests a new direction.

Lesson: Organizations need to look ahead and be agile. Do this to grow and stay relevant.


Xerox confronted one of the most important and difficult things it had to do in order to stay vital. We took something we loved ─ our heritage, the industry we created and that had taken on our name ─ and changed it. That’s leadership. Those in this role define reality and give hope. We changed our business model to keep pace with reality and impact the business to turn a potential problem into an opportunity. It takes insight, good timing and the resolve to move forward.

Lesson: Leaders decide on a direction. They appoint an excellent team to support them. They take decisive action ahead of the need to do so.


For Xerox to change, leadership matters. Collaboration does too. It refers to activities inside the company, across industry and with government(s). Xerox employs 140,000 people around the world. Transforming the company is a shared agenda, where leadership sets a path for all to pursue. That requires engaging and explaining what we have today, and where we want to be tomorrow. It also requires working with trade and government agencies to pave the way for all to grow.

Lesson: Business is an ecosystem. No entity or person can succeed alone. Partner with stakeholders to engender a shared view of the future and forge the way forward.

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