Cheryl Pearson-McNeil

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Vice President, Communications and Community Affairs • The Nielsen Co.• Chicago, IL

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil acts as if she owns the place when she walks into a room. “I’ve learned not to allow others to limit me by putting me into the boxes they feel comfortable having me in. I like to define my own parameters. I define me,” she says.

That confidence has served her well in her 21-year media and public relations career, especially in her current role as vice president of communications and community affairs at The Nielsen Co., the nation’s leading television ratings company. “I educate the media, decision leaders and the general public about the importance of what [our company does] and why they should care,” she says.

Pearson-McNeil was director of station relations at the NBC affiliate in Chicago for nearly five years before she joined Nielsen. She holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Purdue University, a M.B.A. from Keller Graduate School of Management, and currently is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago in preparation for her “career afterlife.” A divorced, single mother with a grueling work and travel schedule, she attends classes part time.

Yet, “I am the woman who raises her hand first, sits as close as possible to the teacher, volunteers to be first to give oral presentations and reads the entire book when only eight chapters were assigned,” she says.

Her younger classmates have labeled her “overachiever.” What they don’t realize, she explains, is that she sits close to the teacher because she can’t see him otherwise and is accustomed to speaking before large groups of people for a living. “And I had time to read the entire book assigned because I was stuck in an airport for eight hours as flight after homebound flight was cancelled. Imagine what I could do if I only had more time?” she quips.

The 14-hour days are worth it. “When I’m ready to retire and write books for a living, I want the added comfort in knowing I have the credentials to do so. That’s the overachiever in me coming through!” she declares.

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