The relationship between Dina Powell and Ivanka Trump began inauspiciously: with a cold call.
Speaking at a Thursday evening dinner in Washington, D.C., Powell, who is now deputy national security adviser for strategy and senior counselor for economic initiatives, told the story of receiving an unexpected phone call soon after the 2016 presidential election.
Powell, then head of Goldman Sachs’s Impact Investing team and president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, was in her office one day when she was told: “Ivanka Trump’s on the phone.”
“She was doing a tremendous amount of research,” Powell told the audience at the dinner honoring the 2017 class of the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. “She is a numbers person. She had seen 10,000 Women [one of Goldman’s major initiatives focused on helping female entrepreneurs around the world] and some of the other programs and she said, you know, ‘I want to understand how that program works. How do you measure success?’ She was really thinking about, you know, how she could lend her voice.”
Despite the surprising start, the relationship between the two women quickly took off. They never met before Trump’s call, but by January, it was reported that Powell was already one of the first daughter’s most trusted advisors. That same month, she was named senior counselor to President Trump. In March, she was appointed deputy national security advisor.
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Powell has already been privy to history-making actions by President Trump. She was the only woman in a room of 13 staffers the night the commander-in-chief ordered the missile attack in Syria. She was also a key player in the ordeal to bring home Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American charity worker who was imprisoned in Cairo for three years and freed this month after months of negotiations between the Trump administration and representatives of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.
Like Hijazi, Powell too is an Egyptian-American, having immigrated from Egypt to Texas at age four. It was partly thanks to her knowledge of Arabic that she landed an internship with former Texas Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a year-long internship that turned into a fifteen-year career in politics.
Powell credits her career success to “not overplanning,” she told the D.C. audience. “It’s just taking that leap of faith.” For her, that meant taking a job at an investment bank with no experience in finance—and then leaving that job to work for a brand-new administration.