Change Agent

Having built careers as both a corporate attorney and a high-powered executive, Cynthia Hamilton Augustine ’79 has come to appreciate the multifaceted work life.

Illustration of Cynthia Hamilton Augustine

Cynthia Hamilton Augustine ’79 was well into her career as a corporate attorney when she had the unnerving realization that her zeal for the legal profession was faltering. From the moment her eyes were opened wide in a constitutional law course at Sarah Lawrence with John “Jack” Nields (legal studies), Augustine had envisioned a long and enriching career practicing law. She had gone on to earn her JD at Rutgers and to work as an attorney for more than 15 years, specializing in employment law. But now she was having second thoughts.

“It dawned on me that, as lawyers trying to resolve employment disputes, we were working with parties who were already at such odds with each other that we were never going to get them to a place of understanding,” Augustine says. “I always felt that if I could only have been there earlier, maybe the parties could have communicated better with each other. But it was usually all too late.”

Augustine returned to a former employer, The New York Times, to work as a senior vice president in the human resources department at a time when the company was weathering the digital revolution. A team player by nature, Augustine could now help establish clear guidelines for preventing workplace rancor within a supportive professional environment. This was 20 years ago, and she’s never looked back.

From the Times, Augustine moved on to human resources positions at Time Warner and Scholastic, jobs that demanded she develop new skills, such as managing employee expectations in companies undergoing turbulent change. Today she’s the global chief talent officer at Foote, Cone & Belding, the world’s third largest advertising agency. “After having had a few jobs, I realized that if I work hard, if I pay attention, if I really try hard to learn, I will be able to do the job,” says Augustine, the mother of two grown children, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, Paul, a retired social worker.

Augustine has always tried to impart to others what she knows to be true for herself. “Change is absolutely constant,” she says. “I try to provide comfort to people: that they can learn new skills, that they will survive the change, that it’s going to be okay. We have to change and we have to evolve. Otherwise, we will be left in the dust.”

Given today’s fast-moving job market, in which lifelong employment in one profession or one company is a thing of the past, Augustine welcomes job seekers who’ve held many jobs. From her perspective, the mosaic of employment experience is a sign that people can adjust to new cultures and bring different ideas to problem solving. “Because the pace of change today is so rapid,” she says, “continuous learning is pretty much mandatory for all of us.”