The challenges of a post-apocalyptic world or a quest for immortality might present difficulties for some, but not Maureen O'Connell. As CFO and chief administrative officer at New York-based Scholastic Corp., O'Connell oversees activities that reap substantial profits from fictional works, such as "The Hunger Games" and the Harry Potter books, that bring such scenarios to life for children and teenagers.

Of course, O'Connell's challenges at Scholastic—a leading children's book publisher that sells and distributes a range of titles in the U.S. and more than 140 other countries—have been quite different than those of the fictional characters in these works, but perhaps no less compelling or action-packed. The company sells one out of every two children's books in the U.S. and also runs school-based book fairs and book clubs. It is active in educational technology and services, children's media and the global licensing of its brands.

Since joining the company in 2007, after senior finance positions at Barnes & Noble, Gartner Research and Primedia, O'Connell has consolidated and streamlined Scholastic's global operations, managed the company's financials, reduced operational costs, led efforts to return approximately $500 million to shareholders through buybacks and dividends and even revised distribution center operations—a broad range of responsibilities that O'Connell relishes.

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