The only words he ever says in public are, "This is the official two-minute warning for the press. Two minutes." He delivers them with effortless authority to vast crowds after placing President George W. Bush's note cards or speech text on the podium just so. His declarations sometimes cause networks to go live.
Blake Gottesman, a 26-year-old Texan who met the President when he was dating Bush's daughter Jenna in high school, has the title of personal aide to the President. It's a job that traditionally meant being "body guy" to the chief, the young aide who carries the souvenirs and dispenses the Purell. But Bush is uniquely sensitive about his personal ecology, and Gottesman has blossomed into a systems analyst, gatekeeper and diplomat who serves as the membrane between the President and the rest of the staff.
Gottesman, famous for remembering the names of volunteers, floats above all the political, military and advance-office silos and orchestrates each group's interaction with the President, incorporating preferences and efficiencies learned from other days and other cities. On the road he'll crack a joke if Bush is getting tense.
"If the aide looks nervous, the President will think there's something to be nervous about," Gottesman, who is intensely private even for a Bushie, tells TIME in a rare interview. "So you look calm even when everything is going wrong."
White House Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett calls Gottesman "a walking mood ring," the unquestioned authority on whom the President wants in his limo, what member of Congress he may accept in his office on Air Force One and whether it is wise for a top aide to bring up a particular topic at a particular time. "Blake is so humble and professional that advisers much older than he rely on his advice instead of resenting him," says Reed Dickens, 28, who has filled in for Gottesman.
The President occasionally calls Gottesman "Soldier," needling him for the earpiece he wears to stay in contact with other staff members during presidential events. Lately Bush has been calling him "Harvard" because this fall he will follow in the President's footsteps and enroll in Harvard Business School. Senior adviser Karl Rove describes him as "brilliant," but Gottesman had a notable hurdle: he went to work for the presidential campaign when he was 19, so he didn't finish his undergraduate degree. He found a 1991 Boston Globe article, "Harvard Business School on a High School Diploma," that described cases of successful graduates who had been admitted without finishing college, and he won over admissions officials by outlining the earlier cases in an essay. "I researched not just the precedent but whether I'd be able to hack it and contribute to the classes," Gottesman says. "I talked to a bunch of alumni and current students and decided it was worth a shot." Gottesman scored in one of the top percentiles on his Graduate Management Admission Test. He also got into Stanford's business school.