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

Most Powerful Women: The network effect

October 25, 2011: 5:00 AM ET

What happens when influential women like Meg Whitman, Ellen Kullman - and a guy: Warren Buffett - get together? They share smart ideas and - forge unexpected new relationships.

FORTUNE -- Big topics -- the global economy, presidential politics, boardroom drama -- got plenty of airtime at Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit in early October. Meg Whitman (No. 9), the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), outlined plans for calming the waters at the tech giant. Warren Buffett -- the lone male interviewee -- discussed the European crisis and the "Buffett Rule" to increase taxes paid by the rich. ("It's a boyhood dream," he quipped. "I wanted to have a tax named after me.") But the spirit of the summit -- women offering advice and making connections -- emerged in smaller, spontaneous moments: IBM (IBM) senior VP Ginni Rometty (No. 7) confided that "growth and comfort do not co-exist." Lululemon (LULU) CEO Christine Day and Google (GOOG) VP Marissa Mayer (No. 38) bonded while chatting about their companies' approaches to innovation. And when Gloria Steinem walked on stage for her first-ever appearance at a Fortune event, some 400 accomplished women greeted her with an appreciative standing ovation.

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Photographs by Robyn Twomey

This article is from the November 7, 2011 issue of Fortune.

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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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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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