Last night was Fortune magazine’s dinner for its “Most Powerful Women,” and it was a gathering of some of the most accomplished women in their fields. Among the leaders were Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Wal-Mart Chief People Officer Susan Chambers, and Google VP Marissa Mayer. Also in attendance at the star-studded affair were Fortune‘s managing editor Andy Serwer, Chelsea Clinton, pictured right, Barbara Bush, Barbara Walters, and Meredith Whitney.
The key purpose of the event was not just to honor these female leaders in the field, but to introduce 26 younger women, all of whom are rising stars in developing nations, and who are currently being mentored in a global program that Fortune runs in partnership with the U.S. State Department.
The headline interview was between Patricia Sellers and Ursula Burns about Burns’ amazing journey from being an intern at Xerox to ultimately its CEO, making her the first black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Her advice to the mentees? “Do what you love.”
Burns spoke at length about the temptation there is to seek the highest salary straight out of school, and how smaller companies and engineering firms will never be able to compete with investment banks in terms of offering giant paychecks to recent undergraduates. But that does not make them less worthy career options. “You have to first love it and then you’ll be good at it,” Burns said. “Relax and go after something that you love.”
The evening took on a more somber note when Walmart Chief People Officer Susan Chambers spoke about the tornado that has flattened Joplin, Missouri, including a Walmart store in the area, and the human stories of the community trying to protect its members. One moment of heroism came from the Walmart store’s young manager, who may have saved the lives of many by researching which wall in his store was the strongest, and instructing the 200 customers and employees to stand by that wall when the torndao hit. It was the only wall that remained standing.
Google VP Marissa Mayer was the youngest woman to make it on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list, and she spoke about how, during the first tech bubble, she had multiple job offers to choose from, but went with Google, a small start-up at the time. Why did she pick it over more robust organizations? She knew she would learn the most there, she said. Turns out she made the right choice.