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While working at Warner — Lambert Co. (now Pfizer Inc.) from 1995 to 2002, Mary Winston attracted the attention of then — CFO Ernie Larini. As assistant treasurer in charge of setting strategy and overseeing execution of all financing and financial risk globally, Winston, who is today Scholastic Inc.’s executive vice president and CFO, interfaced with Larini on a regular basis and worked with him on various projects. She had no idea how impressed he was by her performance — at least not until six to nine months into the job.
“Because of my role, I was a part of his finance organization. So we had quite a bit of natural direct interaction. There wasn’t a formal moment where he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be your sponsor,'” notes Winston. “I just began noticing that he was very supportive of me, assigning me to more visible projects, and frequently spoke highly of me in succession and planning discussions with senior management and the board.”
Larini says he was impressed with Winston before she even joined the Warner — Lambert camp. In fact, when the company was scouting talent to fill the position, Larini held the job open for several months until Winston was ready to come onboard. “We were looking to improve the diversity within the company and we had candidates who could do the job, but we continued to hold out for Mary because we were looking for quality, not just to get numbers,” Larini explains. “She was labeled as a high — potential individual who was a self — starter and could get the job done.”
In less than a year, Winston was promoted to vice president and assistant treasurer international. With the new title, she became — at 34 — years — old — the youngest person ever to be promoted to that position and the first African American female in the company’s history to assume the role. She credits her own willingness to go the extra mile and Larini for his influence in helping to elevate her so quickly.
With each promotion, Winston focused intently on broadening her financial, international, and executive skills. Her next goal was to sit in the treasurer’s seat. But her sponsor had a bigger title in mind for the fast — track executive. His recommendation: “Why limit yourself to that particular position? Why not become the CFO?”
“Since we had a number of different businesses and we were a global company, we wanted individuals who would be able to move into broader financial roles. I saw in Mary something that she didn’t see in herself and that was the ability to go beyond the treasurer’s role,” says Larini.
Winston seriously considered his counsel and in 1998, when the CFO of Warner — Lambert Canada transitioned out to accept a position elsewhere, Winston took on the job. Larini also recommended that she participate in a number of projects that were outside of her normal responsibilities. Winston again followed his advice. She assumed leadership roles on both the company’s Finance Talent Planning Committee and Corporate Talent Planning Committee, where her