The stage is assembled, the programs are printed, the gift bags stuffed, the last conference call has concluded, and– always the very last step in the process—my blowout appointment is booked. Tomorrow we kick off the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit here in San Francisco, a gathering of 250-plus rising star women in business and leadership and inaugural effort at connecting with and inspiring the next generation of women in business.
For a day and a half, we’ll bring some of the biggest names in business together and try to capture and add to the momentum that’s powering this group—because they are commanding some serious energy right now.
This is the latest of many new extensions of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, and in many ways, it is our most important. Women are achieving more in business across the board, but this is especially true at the younger age range. Part of this is due to the startup explosion; but women also are having a huge impact within large corporations. Indeed, one of the things that surprised us most as the registrations and applications started rolling in were the numbers of women from within Fortune 500 corporations and their very senior titles.
Loosely speaking, we define “next generation” as 45 and under. We settled on this definition for a few reasons; one, our Most Powerful Women Summit tends to capture the truly powerful women in their late 40s and above. But “under 40” seemed too young for what we wanted to achieve—and would fail to capture the leaders in that important “sweet spot” where women’s careers tend to surge, the years between 40 and 44.
It seems that we have struck a chord. We sold out in record time. We have a waitlist 200-women strong. (For those who didn’t make it in, the event will be streamed live. Come check it out here at 3:45 pm PST.) There seems to be a huge appetite to connect, learn, network and get inspired among this group.
And the program? We are very grateful to have some serious wattage on stage. We’ll have lots of high profile “next generation” women, like Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, Alicia Boler-Davis, SVP of General Motors and Airbnb head of operations Varsha Rao. We’ll have several startup founders on stage, including Clara Shih, Ruzwana Bashir of Peek.com, Debbie Sterling of Goldiblox, Julia Hartz of Eventbrite and Rachel Shechtman of Story. We’ve also tapped some key members of our MPW community to lend their wisdom: we’re thrilled to have Roz Brewer, president and CEO of Sam’s Club, with us, as well as Ellevate’s Sallie Krawchek, negotiation expert Vicki Medvec and venture capitalist Aileen Lee.
I’m especially looking forward to interviewing Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, chair of Dreamworks and director of Starbucks and Estee Lauder; Mellody will kick things off as our opening night speaker (along with Piper Kernan, the author of Orange is the New Black and the real-life protagonist of the hit show).
It’s hard to pick favorites among this lineup, but the top things I’m looking forward to are:
-Hearing from Varsha Rao, head of operations of Airbnb. Varsha is the rare Silicon Valley executive that hasn’t spoken much publicly, so this will be a great opportunity to hear insights and observations from her powerful perch in the rapidly changing sharing economy. She’ll share the stage with Sallie Krawchek, who will share her own lessons, in a session moderated by Karen Finerman of CNBC.
-I’m looking forward to hearing from Vanessa Hood, government lead at Palantir—the low- profile, super-influential startup that uses data to investigate crime and fraud for governments and business clients around the world. Vanessa will give us a demo on a fascinating breakthrough the company has made.
-I can’t wait to hear lessons, tips and war stories on negotiation from the always-entertaining Vicki Medvec, a regular on stage at the Most Powerful Women Summit and who this time will trade negotiation tactics with Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde.
-I always love hearing tales from the trenches from entrepreneurs, and we’ve got a great session featuring three of them: Rachel Shechtman of STORY, Susan Coelius Keplinger of Triggit and Meredith Perry of Ubeam.
-I’m looking forward to my conversation with Equinox president Sarah Robb O’Hagan and Onyx Pharmaceuticals’ Naseem Zojwalla. We’ll talk about health, fitness, and overall wellness from two very different perspectives.
-Finally, I’m really looking forward to my interview with Mellody Hobson. Mellody is a veteran big-company director, a dispenser of great and entertaining career advice and stories, and she has a compelling personal story. This year she’s been speaking up about race a lot more—we’ll touch on that, too. Twenty minutes won’t be nearly enough with her. (What else should I ask Mellody? Feel free to let me know at leigh_gallagher@Fortune.com)
But like all MPW events, the sessions that surprise, provoke and entertain most will likely be ones I least expected. That’s the thing about live events—you never quite know what’s going to happen. We’ve done our best to set the stage for an insightful, educational, thought-provoking, inspiring day and a half. And now, let the games begin. See you on the other side!
“From the MPW Co-chairs” is a series where the editors who oversee theFortune Most Powerful Women brand share their insights about women leaders.