Her name comes from the musical term "con dolcezza", to perform with sweetness, but Condoleezza Rice's performance so far has been tough in both ideas and action.
She is tipped to take the post of national security adviser in a George W. Bush administration and has already served under his father's administration as senior director for Soviet affairs at the National Security Council.
A Soviet expert and Russian speaker, she is described as a "modern incarnation of the cold warrior" and has long advocated a tougher stance towards Russia and China and a larger missile defence system for America. For her, United States foreign policy should concentrate on national interest above humanitarian concerns.
Her hero is Harry Truman and she admires Baroness Thatcher because "she doesn't mince her words".
As provost of Stanford University in California for six years, before taking leave of absence last year, Rice initially caused controversy by cutting services and firing staff to meet a large budget shortfall.
Her appointment as the youngest ever provost, and the first to be either black or female, was a tribute to her strength of character.
Rice was born in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, where a childhood friend was killed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb. She was influenced in becoming a Republican by her father, John, who had been refused the vote by Democrats. John Rice was later made vice-chancellor of the University of Denver, where his only daughter became an undergraduate, aged 15.
Her ambition had been to become a concert pianist, but Rice became fascinated by international politics, influenced by her tutor Josef Korbel, father of Madeleine Albright.
George W. Bush praises Rice because "she can explain foreign policy matters to me in a way I can understand".