Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Xerox CEO Burns on the rising value of reputation

March 6, 2012: 9:25 AM ET

Playing a key role in the Xerox (XRX) corporate turnaround, serving on the American Express (AXP) board, doing big deals with Procter and Gamble (PG)—all these things give Ursula Burns unique perspective on the value of corporate reputation. The Xerox chief knows from personal experience how reputation can make or break a company.

Burns takes reputation very seriously. When I asked her to answer a few questions for Fortune's Most Admired Companies issue (currently on newsstands), I figured she would email me quick answers, dashed off between meetings. Knowing Burns, I should have known better. A diligent engineer since the day back in 1980 when she started at Xerox as a summer intern, she indeed put huge thought into her answers.

You can read the full Burn interview about corporate reputation here. I particularly like this answer, below, because it reveals a truth more important today than ever: Companies may lure talent with big money and sexy job titles, but to keep the best people, a pristine reputation really counts.

Are the corporate attributes you admire today the same ones you did at the outset of your career?

BURNS: Fresh out of college, you tend to join a company because it's a job. But, you tend to stay because it becomes a career; you start to feel at home. In the beginning of your career, you're focused on you: I like this place because I'm doing rewarding work; they take good care of me; the people are nice; there's runway for me, etc. For me, I was very much in tune to the cultural attributes of Xerox -- how respected the company was (and still is) for diversity, being a good corporate citizen, being an innovation engine. I came for the job and quickly stayed because of all these things.

As I've progressed in my career, I've come to appreciate -- and really value -- the other attributes that define a company's success beyond the P&L: great leadership, long-term financial strength, ethical business practices, evolving business strategies, sound governance, powerful brands, values-based decision-making.

I could go on … but it's fair to say that I see the broader picture now. That's the benefit of experience and having career opportunities that expose you to the inner workings of how a company ticks. Admiration takes on a whole new level when you appreciate just how complex it is to run a modern business.

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Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

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