How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Larry Summers weighs in on Court pick Kagan

May 12, 2010: 2:23 PM ET

Yesterday's Postcard, "Elena Kagan: The Supreme Court's best boss?" detailed how the illustrious nominee's people-management skills have propelled her career.Larry Summers

Larry Summers, the President's top economic adviser, called to add his two cents about the woman who worked with him a decade ago at Harvard. Kagan, now 50, was a relatively new professor at Harvard Law School and Summers was president of Harvard University, he explained, when there was a swirl of disagreement about whether to move the law school across the Charles River. Most faculty members were dead-set against the move, even though it would give the law school the space it needed to expand. Appointed to chair the committee to examine the issue: Elena Kagan.

Summers was blown away by her comprehensive data-gathering. She interviewed every faculty member, real estate developers, and Harvard Law alums, he recalls. Her report--"brilliant," he calls it -- helped squabbling parties come to terms on the vexing issue. The result? Harvard Law School stayed put, while Kagan "emerged from being a relatively new faculty member to being a natural leader of the faculty," he says.

Indeed, Kagan rose to President of Harvard Law School in 2003. Summers is eager to note that besides wisely using her collegiality and consensus-building skills, "She's also extremely fact-based. She forms judgments based on deep knowledge."

Obviously, Summers is rooting for her Senate confirmation, which is likely. As for whether he leaned on the President to choose Kagan for the Court, no way is Summers going there. This, he says adamantly, was the President's decision.

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Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

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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