伯恩斯的妈妈是一位异常坚毅的母亲，为了让三个孩子接受良好的教育，伯恩斯说“她不惜一切代价”。伯恩斯的母亲在自家的廉价公寓里替人看护小孩，靠着这点积蓄，她却把乌尔苏拉送进天主教学校，之后是纽约大学工学院（Polytechnic Institute of NYU），直至进入哥伦比亚大学（Columbia University）就读，并最终获得了机械工程硕士学位。1980年夏天，伯恩斯进入施乐实习，在产品开发和制造部工作，并一路晋升；十几年前，施乐濒临破产，但伯恩斯不为所动，而是选择了坚守。
当年，51岁的伯恩斯和前任CEO 安妮•马尔卡希并肩作战，她们发挥各自的才华和令人称赞的领导能力，一个主攻工程技术，一个主攻销售，最终成功地挽救了施乐。伯恩斯个性非常固执，是个急性子。不过也懂得审时度势，以大局为重。比如公司派她管理行政事务，虽然对她来说过于简单，她还是欣然接受了。用伯恩斯自己的话来说，这主要得益于马尔卡希给她的建议和指导。当马尔卡希把伯恩斯提升到首席执行官的位子上时，她对伯恩斯说“你生来就是做领导的料”。CEO的权杖在两个女人之间进行交接，这在《财富》500强公司（Fortune 500）历史上还是头一次。
When Ursula Burns went to Washington and met with President Obama last Friday, at least two people in the room personified her notion of what leads to great success: "The biggest differentiator is not how you are born," says the Chairman and CEO of Xerox (XRX). "It's how you're influenced throughout your life."
Barack Obama had a remarkable single mother to influence him. As did Burns, who grew up on New York's gritty Lower East Side and was guided, she says, by her mother who advised:
"Where you are today is not who you are," Olga Burns told her daughter, urging young Ursula not to be defined by her surroundings.
"Success is not about money. It's not about power. It's about leaving." Burns explains: "She would always say that you have to leave the place -- any place you are -- a little bit better than you came in."
"And the third thing she always said is that there are a lot of things that can happen to you, but there are a whole bunch of things that you can happen to. So make sure that you happen to the right things."
What happened to Burns is that her mom was more than determined—"desperate," says Burns—to make sure that her three kids were well-educated. With savings from a child-care service that she ran out of their tenement apartment, she sent Ursula to Catholic school and then Polytechnic Institute of NYU and Columbia University. Ursula got her Masters in mechanical engineering. She started at Xerox as an intern in the summer of 1980, rose through product development and manufacturing, and resisted temptations to leave when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy just over a decade ago.
Burns, 51, and Anne Mulcahy, her predecessor as CEO, rescued Xerox by pairing their respective talents, engineering and sales, and their complimentary leadership styles. Burns is fiercely opinionated and impatient. And while she has acquiesced occasionally—like when she accepted a chief of staff job she thought would be too easy for her—she says she's guided by advice she got from Mulcahy. "You cannot be somebody else and lead," Mulcahy told Burns when she promoted her to chief executive in the first woman-to-woman CEO handoff in the history of the Fortune 500.
In other words, says Burns: "Be who you are."
Defining herself today, she says, "I'm Ursula Burns, mother of two and wife of a great guy. I happen to be the CEO of Xerox Corporation and the chairman of the board." She is also on the board and No. 9 on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list.
And with that high-level corporate platform, Burns can work on the cause that her late mother held dear: education. President Obama chose Burns as one of the leaders of the White House national program on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and she is involved in various other education programs.