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Women to Watch: Tara Comonte

Chief Operating Officer-Chief Financial Officer and Member of the Office of the Chairman, Mediabrands

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- To say the last six months have been eventful for Tara Comonte would be something of an understatement.

In November, Ms. Comonte, already the chief financial officer, was named chief operating officer of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mediabrands and became the first CFO to be inducted into the American Advertising Federation's Hall of Achievement Under 40. Just more than two months later, she, along with three others, was named to the office of the chairman at Mediabrands after Nick Brien, former Mediabrands CEO, left to run Interpublic's McCann Worldgroup.

With Mr. Brien's departure, Ms. Comonte was tapped to step up and run Mediabrands along with Matt Seiler, global CEO of Universal McCann; Richard Beaven, global CEO of Initiative; and Matt Freeman, CEO of Mediabrands Ventures. While Ms. Comonte, 36, concedes that running an operation the size of Mediabrands with three other individuals "is clearly not the optimum way to get things done because you have four different voices, points of view and calendars," she said that "it's working surprisingly well."

But planning meetings with her three colleagues is by no means her biggest challenge. That would be the race for business re-invention and figuring out where Mediabrands should place its bets. "This is something that spans our entire industry," she said. "The reality is that the speed and evolution of this marketplace and marketing in general isn't slowing down, and figuring out how, when and where to place our bets, whether it be acquisitions or talent, is a big area of focus and deliberations for us this year."

Ms. Comonte said her willingness to take calculated risks in situations where many CFOs look to simply "count pennies" often astounds people. "You can not cut your way to growth, it's a fact," she said. "We have to continue to invest in our businesses. But the investments have to be strategically thought through, and we must articulate both the benefit of those investments to our clients and their commercial return for stakeholders. That's our biggest challenge."

Mr. Brien has worked with Ms. Comonte for seven years at numerous agencies all over the world. He describes her as an excellent CFO and strategic business partner with the unique ability to optimize the bottom line as well as grow the top line.

"She is a tremendous force," Mr. Brien said. "And what's most important in this business is having the character and fortitude to not only be intense and bring that intensity to the endeavor, but to also be extremely persistent in the face of disappointment."

Asked if he and Ms. Comonte would soon find themselves at the same agency again, Mr. Brien said it was unlikely that would happen -- for now.

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