Brainard is America's top international financial diplomat. The 51-year-old represents Treasury across the world as the department tries to negotiate policies, open up markets, and deal with global financial meltdowns. "In this period, when our own recovery has been so hard-won, the conditions in the rest of the world have been more important than ever," she says. Brainard is a natural fit, given her childhood in Poland and Germany during the Cold War. This experience was "profoundly influential in terms of how I do my work now," she says. "I was very cognizant that we were representing America during a period of profound influence." Brainard attended Wesleyan University and then Harvard for her master's and doctoral degrees in economics. Her work life has spanned the private sector (McKinsey & Co.); academia (a professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology); think tanks (the Brookings Institution); and the federal government. She served in the Clinton administration as the deputy national economic adviser and as deputy assistant to the president on international economics. During her time at Treasury, she says she is most proud of the way her team averted potential spillover to the United States from the European financial crisis and of making progress in the U.S. relationship with China.