Mr. Kearns came to Xerox from I.B.M. in 1971, rising quickly to president and chief operating officer in 1977, and then to chief executive in 1982. He presided over a tumultuous period of transition for the company and for American industry in general, with global competition and rapid technological change forcing many companies, including Xerox, to dismantle aging bureaucracies, cut costs and streamline manufacturing processes.
At the Education Department, Mr. Kearns continued to advocate for improved public schools as a means of restoring American competitiveness. He was also tapped by President Bush to head a task force dispatched to Los Angeles after riots set off by the acquittal of four police officers who participated in the beating of Rodney King.
Mr. Kearns left the department in 1993 — a year after receiving a diagnosis of sinus cancer — but he continued his crusade for school reform, helping to found a nonprofit organization called New American Schools and serving as a senior fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 1993 to 1995.
He continued to devote time to the University of Rochester where he served as a trustee for more than three decades. He attended the University of Rochester, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1952.
He joined the Navy after graduation but returned to New York in 1954, joining I.B.M. and eventually rising to vice president of its data processing division. He would later say that he left that company in part because he longed to head Xerox.
In addition to his wife of 56 years, Shirley, Mr. Kearns is survived by four daughters, Kathy Frame, Elizabeth Young, Anne Fields and Susan Alderman; two sons, Todd and Andrew; and 18 grandchildren.