Xerox CEO Ursula Burns Interview/Career Advice via Wall Street Journal []

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns Interview with Valuable Career Advice via Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by Leslie Kwoh. Featured @ RJO Ventures, Inc. (For Promotional Use Only)

Ursula Burns, who started as an intern at Xerox Corp., eventually rose through the ranks to become the first African-American female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

During a talk at Catalyst’s annual awards conference on Tuesday, the 54-year-old CEO recounted how her mother, who raised Burns in New York City public housing, loved to give out advice. One of her mom’s favorite sayings, “Where you are is not who you are. Remember that when you’re rich and famous,” sticks with her to this day.

Nowadays, young women ask her for advice on achieving their career goals. Here’s what she tells them:

1.      Find a good (older) husband. Burns met her husband, Lloyd Bean, while working at Xerox. A scientist and researcher, he was also 20 years her senior. “He had already gone through this ‘growing up’ stuff,” she says. The age difference proved advantageous when Burns’s job later required her to travel frequently and leave their two young children at home. Her husband retired, allowing Burns to focus on advancing her career. “So the secret,” she jokes, “is to marry someone 20 years older.”

2.      Redefine work-life balance. It’s a “fool’s journey” to try to achieve perfect balance between one’s professional and personal lives, Burns says. Instead, she suggests women get comfortable with the idea of taking “your entire life to find balance. You should have balance, on average, over time – not in a day or in a month.”

3.      Be selfish sometimes.  Burns advises “checking out” occasionally to put personal needs ahead of career and family. “Think about your health, physically and mentally,” she says. A failure to do so, she warns, can put everything else at risk.

4.      Don’t take guilt trips. Mothers often feel pressure to be present for their children all the time, but such expectations are neither realistic nor necessary, Burns says. “Kids are pretty resilient,” she says. “You don’t have to be at every volleyball game. We can’t guilt ourselves.” Her own mother missed many of her extracurricular activities, she adds, “and I’m fine.”

5.      Don’t take life too seriously. “Ninety percent of this stuff is just not that serious,” she says. “We get crazy about it.” Burns says she often thinks back to her mother’s advice to stay grounded. “Continually go back to the basic stuff,” she says. “Be prudent. Enjoy it.”