If ever there was someone to look to in the business world for inspiration, look no further than US businesswoman, Ursula Burns. I recently had the pleasure of hearing her whilst attending the Declan Kelly Teneo Leadership Lecture 2018, at Queens University, Belfast.
Raised in a very poor and deprived district of New York, Ursula’s upbringing and the challenges she faced as an aspiring undoubtedly played a key role in shaping her future as a, as one of the most successful black women in business, of her generation. Over 35 years since she first began Xerox, where she went on to become both CEO and Chair, she has remained a vocal advocate for the benefits and needs of diversity in the workplace. However, there is more work to be done as, to date, Ursula is the only woman to succeed another as head of a Fortune 500 company.
In 2014, Forbes
rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world, among other civic positions such as leader of the STEM program
of the White House
and head of the President's Export Council
. Currently the chairman of VEON
, a senior advisor to Teneo
, and a non-executive director of the beverage company Diageo
since April 2018, among other directorships such as Uber
, it is evident Ursula is a woman high in demand.
Sharing an “inspirational”, lecture titled, “Impatience is a Virtue”, Ursula urged CEOs to drive opportunity and access for the future and called for women and ethnic minorities to take action for equality in the workplace, claiming men must “want” this change also. On leadership, Burns explained that all leaders must inhabit grit and passion to overcome the hurdles along the way.
She proudly reflected on her relationship with her mother and described her as an inspiration for “hard work”. Quoting her mother, she said, “this is where you are, not who you are”, it is evident Burns’ mother had a huge influence on her determination and success as a business woman.
I took away many great words of advice and knowledge from that lecture, however, one phrase in particular stuck with me as I left, “Always leave more behind than you take away”. No matter what the circumstance, be it a meeting you have, a company you leave or life itself, you should endeavour to leave more than you take.
As we sit here in limbo in Northern Ireland, it is uncertain whether the DUP and Sinn Fein have left more than they took. We should all ask that question of ourselves and if we come up lacking we should take immediate action.