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A train trip helped start Catherine Viscardi Johnston's career in publishing.

After spending her senior year of college studying in Japan, she opted for the long way back to the U.S. She took the weeklong train trip from Vladivostok, on the then-Soviet Union's Pacific coast, to Moscow and then ambled across Europe.

When she returned to the U.S., a favorite uncle, Ron Viscardi, then a veteran ad salesman at Conde Nast's Glamour, hooked her up with the then-publisher of another Conde Nast title, House & Garden-who was so impressed by her solo sojourn across China, Russia and Europe that he hired her on the spot.

Now Ms. Johnston, 43, is Conde Nast Publications' senior VP-advertising and the highest-ranking woman officer in the company. She's in charge of working up multi-title discount programs across the domestic Conde Nast titles as well as integrated marketing programs that tap into other Advance Publication units-from Random House books to Parade Publications.


Her current position is a far cry from her start at Conde Nast. The first day in the "bullpen," she remembers putting her head down and sobbing-and feeling she had made a terrible career choice.

Eventually, she got the hang of it and landed the prize of all direct mail accounts, Burpee Seed Co.

But shortly after Conde Nast purchased Gentleman's Quarterly, she was restless for a change and called the publisher to inquire about moving to a more challenging job in display sales. By the time she arrived, the old publisher had been replaced by a guy named Steve Florio.

That meeting was to forge a lasting bond. She landed a job and managed to bring tobacco giants Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco into that book. Years later, Mr. Florio became president-CEO of Conde Nast and one of his big hires in his first 18 months was to bring Ms. Johnston, who left in 1991, back to Conde Nast in 1995.

In a twist of fate, her office is on the same spot where she once toiled as a rep for GQ.

"We used to call it blood alley back then," she says.

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