Rochester, N.Y. — David T. Kearns, former chief executive officer of Xerox died today. He was 80 years old.
In a statement, Ursula M. Burns, chairman and CEO of Xerox, said “I know I speak for the entire Xerox family, past and present, when I say that there is a gaping hole in our hearts today. In a time of great need for Xerox, Kearns shouldered the mantle of leadership and rallied Xerox people to overcome a fierce competitive challenge and ensure the company’s future. All Xerox people who followed are in his debt. David’s contributions to our company and our country were extraordinary, but he was above all else a decent and compassionate man who taught us how to treasure family, work hard, contribute to society and, in the end, how to live out one’s life with courage, dignity and grace. He was a very special man who leaves all of us with a remarkable legacy. Our hearts and prayers go out to Shirley, his wife of 56 years, their six children and 18 grandchildren.”
Born and educated in Rochester, N.Y., Kearns served in the United States Navy from 1952-54 and then joined IBM. In 1971, he was persuaded to come home to Rochester and joined Xerox as a vice president. By 1977, he was named president and chief operating officer and was named CEO in 1982.
In 1989, Xerox was awarded the Malcolm Baldrige Award for Quality, the nation’s highest such accolade, by President George H. W. Bush. Kearns described it as “a high point of my business career, an affirmation that Xerox is a great company filled with wonderful people who came together to save and transform our company.”
Kearns was a passionate champion of diversity and served for five years as the chairman of the National Urban League. Having aspired as a young man to become a public school teacher, he used his position at Xerox to advocate for education reform. Long before it was popular, he deplored the declining quality of American education and linked it to a problem for our economy. “A world-class economy depends on a world-class workforce,” he said and wrote often, “and a world-class workforce depends on a world-class public education system.”
In 1991, his 20th anniversary with the company, he left Xerox to become Deputy Secretary of Education in the Administration of President Bush.
Of all his many professional achievements, Kearns had this to say about his most treasured: “Back in the 1980s, Xerox was under siege. It would have been easy to sell our soul in order to survive. We didn’t do that. We protected our values, maybe even strengthened them. We emerged not just as a big company, but as a great company with a big heart. That’s the way I’d like to be remembered by Xerox people - - as someone who not only helped to save the company, but also strengthened our values.”