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Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Morning, Day 2: Pilates for the Power Set

This morning most of the power folks are doing pilates or walking around the lake. I forgot my sweats...so I'm confined to my quarters here.

Today's program will start with intergenerational teams of women like #12 Judy McGrath, Chairman and CEO of MTV networks and Viacom, and her protégé discussing their greatest challenges, successes and missteps.

Oh, and there will be workshops and presentations on global marketing and media and the geo-political landscape. But the landscape that's most visible and different from the early summits is that of connecting to each other across age, and country and company...woman to woman.

Everyone wants and gets to rub up against the stars, but truthfully, there's a lot of brightness reflecting off most of the women. Everyone seems to be talking about new ways to have and use power. Ready for another day. And, running to breakfast.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Evening, Day 1: Diversity, Politics and, ahem, Shoes

What do over 300 powerful women in a room talk about when they get together? I've been able to attend Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit for several years now, but the talk this year is different from any of the previous Summits: the conversations I have and overhear are about embracing the future and the connection between our security and the corporate world. I'm here in my capacity as a women's leadership expert, and have been looking forward to this Summit as a way to reconnect with some of our country's brightest minds from business, politics and media. So far I've caught conversations about children, work, corporate social responsibility, community, politics, and (ok, full disclosure) shoes.

Sarah Jones, the Tony Award winning playwright (Bridge and Tunnel) kicks off the event transforming herself into some of her best characters to amuse and skillfully bring a diversity of class and ethnicity into the room. We laugh as she celebrates who's here and honors women whose power comes from a different place on the economic and social scale.

She ends by portraying a young Chinese woman who skillfully tackles the issue of immigration by citing a few of the attendees (Arianna Huffington and Madeleine Albright) as proof of what we would be missing if we had closed our borders.

Having a Sarah Jones here is a change from years past. Now, there's noticeably more politics and purpose. Tomorrow, there will be time to commemorate former Texas governor, Ann Richards, whose humor and wisdom have been a fixture at these events. But, I've already noticed--both sides of the political aisle are here.

Over dinner, the program consists of a few of the power houses being called up by Ann Moore, Chairman and CEO of Time Inc. (#15 on the power list). She's not extolling the virtues of Xerox or Avon, she's introducing young women from Pakistan and Nigeria, from Russia and Kenya who have been mentored thru a State Department/Vital Voices/Fortune-created partnership.

The power list's #2, Anne Mulcahy, Chairman and CEO of Xerox, talks about how much she has learned from mentee Farah Agha from Pakistan. We laugh as Anne tells a great story about hopping off the company jet in DC and slipping away before a big meeting to buy shoes. As Anne made her selection, Farah couldn't help but laugh as she pointed her foot forward to show Anne she'd bought the same shoes. Anne herself became invested in Pakistan after the earthquakes there, and is an example of how companies are ahead of the government in finding the connection between their security and sustainability, and how it all relates to other countries.

There's no huddling with just your ilk--you draw a table number when you pick up your Summit packet. During dinner, I sat with Ursula Burns (#27 on the list), SVP and president of the business group at Xerox. I've been intrigued by Ursula since an article a few years ago about her rise to leadership at the company (from a tenement in NYC), and I wanted to know more about her strong connection to Mulcahy.

Burns bounced off Anne's story about the company jet, and starts telling me how it works: the sign-up system and the back-and-forth that goes into procuring the company jet. I'm impressed, but mostly by the power-sharing system and the way they collaborate than by the fact that they have a company jet to zip around in.

After dinner I slip back to my room, and muse about the evening. I'm looking forward to what tomorrow's panels will bring.

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