When Jessica Holscott was named the first female chief financial officer of HBO last fall, it represented a monumental achievement and the pinnacle of a career whose origins can be traced back to the lessons she learned from her mother -- who raised her on her own from middle to high school.
“My mom actually worked two jobs,” Holscott told ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis on a new episode of “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis.” "She was a secretary during the day and then a waitress at night, and so she was a terrific role model for me."
Not only did Holscott’s mom inspire a young Jessica, but she also helped her land her first job after graduation in the financial management program at General Electric (GE).
“The CFO of GE lighting actually lived near us and he'd come into her restaurant where she waitressed every Tuesday night, and he handed her his business card and told me to give him a call and I did,” Holscott said, referring to GE's chief financial officer. “He flew me out for an interview and asked me if I have half the work ethic of my mother, and I said yes, and he said well then you're hired.”
Holscott ended up working at the company for 16 years, where she discovered her love for media at NBCUniversal, and later connected with Howard Averill, who at the time was the CFO of Time Warner, where she became senior vice president of investor relations during the AT&T merger. Looking back, Holscott expressed great gratitude for her mother.
“She gave me my start in the business world, and I owe so much to her,” Holscott said.
Starting college as a pre-med major at the University of Dayton, Holscott didn’t always have a clear route to a c-suite financial role. She spent many years at different companies learning the ins and outs of both the business and media industry putting in countless hours to get to where she is today,
With a drive to measure up to the standards of her mother, Holscott transitioned through a variety of positions -- from lighting to healthcare -- in the hope of becoming the most well-rounded businesswoman possible.
“I did two years in accounting even though I knew I wouldn't like it, but I knew I had to understand it to be a successful CFO down the road,” Holscott said.
Holscott spent a couple of years at NBCUniversal and was eager to get back into the media landscape after going back to GE. She was gunning for a position at Time Warner but the doubters were plentiful.
“I interviewed for Time Warner in the investor relations role, and someone said, ‘oh you can't come back in the media, you've been gone from it for too long’ and ‘it's been 20 years since NBC and the landscapes changed, how are you going to learn that very quickly,’" Holscott recalled of her skeptics.
But Holscott’s “figure it out” mentality and perseverance helped her accept the challenges and prove others wrong as she landed the role at Time Warner and is now in the c-suite at HBO.
She acknowledged the lessons she has learned along the way and how the pay-it-forward mentality has proven to be very beneficial in her career. In a position with such power, Holscott sees the need to listen instead of speak.
“I think I've learned to pick and choose when to make my point versus feeling you need to make it in every, in every meeting that you sit in," she said. "I think it’s more, more powerful, more impactful, and I think you end up making the right point, because you're spending your time listening to all the debate that's in the room.”
Hear more from Jessica Holscott on episode #122 of "No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis."