WASHINGTON --Dipping into their close circle of Chicago friends to find the new White House social secretary, President-elect Barack Obama and wife Michelle named business executive Desiree Rogers to the job Monday.
Rogers, 49, is a former Illinois Lottery director, Peoples Energy chief and current president of Allstate Financial's Internet play, who has been a major social and civic figure in Chicago for years.
Rogers will have one of the most important jobs in the East Wing -- the domain of the first lady -- which oversees the social events in the White House.
"She just has this great ability to do things world class," said her former husband, John Rogers, another close friend of the Obamas who will be one of the Inauguration co-chairs. The Rogers have a daughter, Victoria, 18, a Yale freshman.
Desiree met Michelle Obama through John -- he attended Princeton with Michelle's brother Craig Robinson and later met Barack. Rogers would go on to become close friends with Valerie Jarrett, who grew up on the same block on South Greenwood Avenue as John Rogers.
President-elect Obama tapped Jarrett to be one of his senior advisers on her birthday Nov. 14, and that night the Obamas attended a party for her at Rogers' Astor Street co-op.
The next evening, Rogers was in Washington, dining at the home of former Clinton White House Social Secretary Ann Stock to learn more about the position. On Sunday night, the deal was sealed over a meal in the private dining room of the Mayflower Hotel here with Michelle.
"During that discussion was when I started to have better understanding of what they had in mind for this post," said Rogers.
And what is that? "This whole idea of having people feel comfortable, and having people be able to, in the warmth of wonderful surroundings, be able to develop relationships that are really deep is really what this is about."
Rogers was raised in New Orleans and arrived in Chicago after picking up an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and an MBA from Harvard.
After a stint at AT&T, Rogers worked for Larry Levy, the restaurant and real estate developer. From there, former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, appointed Rogers lottery chief. Rogers even attended the 1992 GOP convention as an alternate delegate.
Another person Rogers turned to for advice is Ann Jordan, who, with husband Vernon are fixtures in Washington society -- she is also Jarrett's cousin as well as a trustee emeriti at the University of Chicago.
"One of the things [Jordan] said is, 'Desiree, you really have to make nice with the people that are working there. They've been there for many years.' "