At a recent dinner for participants in Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women program, Barbara Goodstein, the chief marketing officer at AXA Equitable, found herself seated next to Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills, and after nearly three hours of conversation, Mills offered Goodstein a job. Goodstein turned her down - the pay was terrible - but she recalls being mighty impressed with her "unassuming" dinner companion.

"I just thought she was amazing." One would never know Mills managed an increasingly high-profile government agency "until you probe," Goodstein says.

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