Xerox Chairman & CEO Ursula Burns on work, life and the difference between the two

April 23, 2013 Serena McNally

This blog typically focuses on issues related to the practice of e-discovery, but I wanted to take a brief break to share some life-related insights that Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns, in conversation with ABC News Legal Analyst Dan Abrams at a Conduent event last Thursday evening in New York, shared with our clients.

Our guests were warned beforehand that the talk would be light on legal matters, and deep on leadership, management, innovation and even a bit on work/life balance. During the course of the evening, Ursula offered candid advice in all of these areas. What resonated most with me came from her personal stories.

Ursula began her career at Xerox as a summer intern, working her way through “every nook and cranny of the company,” from product development and manufacturing to supply chain operations, before making her way to the top in 2010. As a wife and mother of two children, the demands of her career forced her to get comfortable with the idea that finding a balance between her personal and professional life would happen over time, and not throughout the course of a day, week or month.

Here’s what Ursula told our clients:

First, remember what matters most. As an example, Ursula reflected back to a time when a family member was sick. She knew that, despite the demands of her job, she needed to be by his side at the hospital. After returning to the office, Ursula realized that nothing had fallen apart. In fact, everything had been moving forward without her. She attributed to her ability to take the time she needed to the competence of her solid senior leadership team.

Second, for working women in particular, take a step back and understand that running a household and family IS a full-time job. Pile onto that a career, and quickly it becomes impossible to manage both without the right partnerships in place. She advises that women, and men, should select a partner that is interested in supporting the other’s career and life choices. Each will be much better for it. And if not, “You should think about choosing another partner.”

Third, advice we can all benefit from: stay grounded, don’t take life too seriously. “Ninety percent of this stuff is just not this serious,” she said. But “we get crazy about it.” Her advice is to stick to the basics. “Enjoy it,” she said. Ursula says this is something her mother always emphasized to her growing up, and that she still lives by these words every day.

Ursula’s approach to balancing her own personal and professional life is one we can all learn from, and her insights are an inspiration to so many of us navigating our careers and busy lives forward.

Now, back to e-discovery….

Serena McNally is marketing manager at Conduent. She can be reached at info@conduent.com.

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