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

Career advice from Most Powerful Women

May 31, 2011: 12:09 PM ET

FORTUNE -- Last week's Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in Manhattan convened established stars, like Martha Stewart and Barbara Walters, with rising stars, like Chelsea Clinton and Barbara Bush. Two daughters of political dynasties converging in the same orbit.

And then there were 26 rising-star women from across the developing world--each a participant in the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring program. These young women were in the U.S. shadowing American women leaders--and hearing, at the dinner, how to succeed.

Google (GOOG) VP Marissa Mayer, No. 42 on the Fortune MPW list, advised taking career risks--as she did in 1999 when, fresh out of Stanford University, she chose Google, then a brand new startup, over a slew of big-name companies. Google was barely ready for its first female engineer, who was Mayer, and she was barely ready for Google. But, she explained, "I wanted to work for smart people, and I wanted to do things I wasnt't ready to do."

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Photo credits: Asa Mathat

While Diane Sawyer bowed out of the MPW dinner last minute to fly to Joplin, Mo., to cover the tornado disaster, Walmart (WMT) EVP Susan Chambers paid homage to Missouri's heroes. At a Walmart in Joplin that got flattened by the twister, Chambers told us, a store manager had taken it upon himself to figure out which wall inside the store was the sturdiest. One wall of the Walmart stood through the storm; by gathering 200 people behind it, he may have saved 200 lives.

Xerox (XRX) CEO Ursula Burns, whom I interviewed on stage, dished out essential career advice: "Do what you love." With her daughter Melissa Bean, a student at NYU, in the audience, Burns talked about a key career moment,  over a decade ago, when she lost faith in Xerox and took a job at Dell (DELL)--and then she reversed her decision. Burns stayed at Xerox. And over her career there, she rose from summer intern to CEO, the first Black female CEO in the Fortune 500.

More power to Burns and all those she inspires. Here's the Xerox chief with me on stage at the MPW dinner, telling her story.

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About This Author
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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MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

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