When Liz Cheney, the daughter of then Vice President Dick Cheney, described Dina Habib Powell in 2005 as “an Arab woman who could serve as a role model to the Middle East, “Cheney’s laudatory comments hardly captured just how fast and how far this Egyptian-born immigrant would rise in both U.S. politics and business. At that time, Habib Powell, then 33, was in charge of staff hires under President George W. Bush and soon would became assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs in his administration.
Eleven years later Powell will return to Washington as half of a couple that can easily be described as second only to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner as both glamorous and powerful. Powell’s new role: economic assistant and senior counselor for economic initiatives for President Donald Trump. “Dina Powell is a tremendous talent and has a stellar record of public service as well as a great career in the private sector,” Trump said in a release. Powell’s partner, Richard McCormick, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, former army officer and president of hedge fund Bridgewater, will also serve the Trump administration as deputy defense secretary. His job supposedly will entail helping to rebuild the U.S. military.
Powell was born in Cairo, the daughter of an officer in the Egyptian army. Her mother was educated at the American University in Cairo. Powell’s parents left Egypt in 1977 to seek opportunity in Dallas, Texas, when Powell was four. Her father upon arrival in the U.S. drove a bus and ultimately owned a convenience store. While studying at the University of Texas at Austin, Powell got her first peek at politics: she worked as a full-time legislative assistant to a state senator. After graduation, she took an internship with U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), then went to work for the then House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
Powell described her upbringing to Glamour in 2013 with humor: “My parents wanted their daughters to reach their full potential. I joke that they said, ‘We left our homeland so you could pursue your dreams—as long as you’re a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer.”’
Powell didn’t disappoint. She ultimately rose to become Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs, under Bush. Ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently told Politico about Powell, “She did crucial work for me at the State Department, where we were trying to be more effective in outreach to the Muslim world and to empower women. Because of her own background as a woman of Egyptian descent she was a cultural ambassador—absolutely an essential member of my team.” Powell is fluent in Arabic.
Powell decided to leave government in 2007 to join investment bank Goldman Sachs where she headed its charitable foundation which, among other things, undertook an initiative called 10,000 Women, which aimed to educate women entrepreneurs around the world. According to Dealbook, Powell who was made a partner at Goldman in 2010, earns $2 million a year, notable in an industry that usually rewards profitable activities.
In her role at Goldman, Powell did not shrink from taking controversial positions. She wrote in 2013: “Egyptian women are severely underrepresented in the economy…only 24% of Egyptian women participate in the labor force.” Powell concluded that this entrepreneurial gender gap was among the highest in the world. “My firm, Goldman Sachs, has conducted research that shows that narrowing the gender gap in employment could increase global income per capita as much as 20% by 2030.”
Expect more of the same from Powell. Recently, Fortune reported that she has been advising Ivanka Trump and her husband on personnel, as well as the kind of women’s issues dear to Ivanka Trump’s heart.