Women to Watch

Cathy O'Brien

By Published on .

Creative. adored. human.

Rarely are those words used to describe accountants, but, though she got her start at a Big 8 accounting firm, Cathy O'Brien isn't your average bean counter. "She's a great blend of left brain and right brain," says Time Inc. Exec VP Nora McAniff.

That combo has served Ms. O'Brien, 45, well. Last November, she was named group publisher of Time Inc.'s newly formed Growth Markets Group, which includes Teen People, People en Espanol, Time for Kids and Sports Illustrated for Kids. It's also the home of All You, the much-anticipated title that will launch in September with initial distribution exclusively through Wal-Mart Stores.

The Growth Markets Group was formed to give Time Inc. magazines the chance to step out from the shadow of their core titles. Ms. McAniff, former president of the People Group, says that under the old structure, Teen People and People en Espanol "were stepchildren in a way." Now, by putting them together, "Cathy gives them the attention they deserve."

It wasn't an easy role to take on. Magazine staffers weren't easily convinced; they were worried that they'd lost their brand identity. Ms. O'Brien's response: "No, you are a brand, and we want you to keep that."

Ms. O'Brien says her finance experience "grounds me in reality," but it was jobs with then-Time Inc. President-Chief Operating Officer Don Logan and later as VP-general manager of Entertainment Weekly that laid the groundwork for her current role.

Shortly after Mr. Logan moved from Southern Progress Corp. to corporate parent Time Inc. in 1992, he offered Ms. O'Brien a job as operations director.

Pushing the famously independent titles of Time Inc. to work together "was a hard sell at first," says Ms. O'Brien, but it started paying off as they shared strategies. Adds Ms. McAniff: "It's so fascinating-SI for Kids brainstorming with Teen People. Before there was no cross-pollination."

As head of the Growth Markets Group, which Ms. O'Brien says is like "a small publishing company" within Time Inc., she gets to do just that.

"She gets a lot out of people but has the business intelligence to take on issues," says Exec VP John Squires. As for this not-your-average accountant's future? "She would make a pretty good CEO of Time Inc.," says Mr. Squires.

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