Where You Are Is Not Who You Are - Ursula Burns

Where You Are Is Not Who You Are - Ursula Burns | OpenGrowth

‘Believe that there are no limitations, no barriers to success - you will be empowered and you will succeed’. - Ursula Burns 

When you are a woman, your journey to success is tough. When you are a woman of color, it gets tougher. Such is the journey of Ursula Burns, the first black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company in the United States of America. In this book, she tours us through the thick and thin of being a woman in the corporate American business and corporate world. 

She has very comprehensively defined this journey to success in eight chapters in the book ‘Where you are is not Who you are.’ 

She is simply heard saying that, ‘“I am a black woman, I do not play golf, I do not belong to or go to country clubs, I do not like NASCAR, I do not listen to country music, and I have a masters degree in engineering. I, like a typical New Yorker, speak very fast, with an accent and vernacular that is New York City, definitely Black. So when someone says I’m going to introduce you to the next CEO of Xerox, and the options are lined up against a wall, I would be the first one voted off the island.”


Let us take a glimpse of her journey. 


Where you are is not Who you are - A memoir 

She was appointed as the CEO of Xerox Corporation in 2009 and she broke all the glass ceilings and was the talk of the country. Burns unapologetically gives all the credit to her mother, who single-handedly raised three children in the lower east side of Manhattan. Her journey from there to one of the elite areas is truly inspiring. 

Talking about the book, in the eight chapters she shares unique insights about the workers she has worked with, racial and economic justice, greed and democracy, and most importantly the battles she won being a black woman.  She is a true leader and not a boss. Also, these must read books on leadership will help you improve your leadership skill sets to become a good leader, not just a boss. 


Chapter I - Prepare for the Cultural Shock 

Hailing from the lower east side of Manhattan, Ursula was not acquainted with socialite culture. She doesn't know how to swim, neither does she play tennis or golf. She feels that the elite schools keep swimming tests for graduation because they know the poor will not apply. 

She lives life on her terms and conditions. For her, enjoying life is not playing golf or tennis. She feels she can enjoy her life on her terms. She need not be socially bound.  


Chapter II - Marry an older man 

Ursula married a scientist from Xerox who was 20 years her senior. Notably, age was no bar for them. In fact, this proved to be very helpful. After retiring, her husband took care of the children and she could completely focus on the company and her work. 



Chapter III - Affirmative action matters 

Being affirmative in any situation in life matters a lot for Ursula. She was helped by the social programs during her childhood days, and only because of them, she could pursue her graduation. She mentions in this book that Talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Therefore, being affirmative is the only way out to survive. 


Chapter IV - Don’t be too nice 

According to Ursula, people should not be gratuitously mean. Where people grow by unfair means and backbiting and bitching, at Xerox, people were supportive of each other’s mediocrity. 


Chapter V - Let them see you Sweat 

While you become a CEO of a company, you know there are many blind spots. There is no harm in taking advice from experts in many matters that are not your area of expertise. 


Chapter VI - Read 

Early in her career, someone suggested her to read a few books which included - Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and a few more. Why does she advise you to read them? Because, when she read them, most of the things written in them turned out to be true. Moreover, these books helped her to groom as a person. 


Chapter VII - You don’t have to be an extrovert 

Though you have to come out of your shell, you don't have to be on the top list on PR. She very beautifully describes, “Most of my living is between my two ears, and always has been,” 


Chapter VIII - Don’t fly to Japan in a private Jet 

Burns has this inner fear that if she would fly to Japan in her private plane, and if the plane went into the China Sea, the rescuers would not put in that much effort as it would do for any other passenger flight. 

Well, this is just an outline of what the book says. The actual book has deeper insights into many situations that she has faced while working for Xerox and becoming a CEO here. Unlike any other business story, Burns has a completely new and important story to tell, which as aspiring businessmen or entrepreneurs, you should not miss. You can also refer to Best women empowerment books around the world to read more stpries that will change your insight towards living your life. 


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An artist by heart and a writer by profession, Prachi is a vivacious reader.  She believes in hard work and her dedication has never let her down. She puts her heart and soul in everthing she does. Though life has not been a bed of roses for her, she affirms that the best way to live it is to maintain an equillibrium between the tunes of life.