A high-level MBA job at Netflix on the frontline of marketing wasn’t on Shakti Sanspeur’s mind when she graduated from HEC Paris. But that’s where she’s landed, in the middle of the streaming wars and slew of new subscription services forever changing the way consumers watch television.
In a way, life on Netflix and life in an MBA program aren’t a million miles apart. You’ve just finished an episode of problem solving and communications and a small bar pops up in the right-hand corner of the screen—it loads quicker than you can react, and the next episode begins, this time it’s ethics and sustainability. In both scenarios, it’s a fast-paced way to gain vast amounts of information and input.
The road to the MBA
Shakti spent the first 18 years of her life in Mauritius. She says that academically, the culture is very results and grade oriented.
Her performance-based education was combined with an outward, global upbringing. Shakti’s mother is from India but was born in Mauritius, and her father is half-Chinese, half French. She says she was raised to be tolerant and open minded, and to strive to understand the differences between people, cultures, and beliefs.
Shakti left the island to move to the UK when she was 18, to pursue an undergraduate degree in marketing management. After graduating, she spent three years working at dunnhumby, the marketing agency of Tesco.
But that role entailed working for Tesco’s different partners and Shakti began to crave a position that would allow her to use her marketing skills to build out a single brand. That’s when the MBA came into play.
With offers from INSEAD, Oxford Saïd, and HEC Paris on the table, the latter prevailed. Shakti says she had heard a multitude of strong reviews about marketing and the HEC Paris MBA.
The 16-month length of the program was ideal, she adds, as well as the diversity of the program. As a bonus, she also had the chance to go on an international exchange.
How the MBA prepared me for a career at Netflix
During the MBA, Shakti didn’t take any modules specifically targeting big tech and entertainment. Even though marketing was her planned direction, she didn’t envisage joining a company like Netflix.
However, the MBA prepared her to succeed in her current role, as a partner marketing creative, in myriad ways.
“It prepared me to understand the different aspects of a business, and to have a broader view of the business world, which is very important.
“Right now, with the sector I’m working in, it’s also very important to understand different cultures because entertainment and how you market entertainment is very subjective,” she explains. “So, being in a group of students from all over the world was very useful.”
In addition, a slice of serendipity was on the cards. The first working group Shakti was placed in at the HEC Paris MBA was made up of students from China, Mexico, and Russia. There was also Johann Matthai, from India.
Being in the same group as Johann was complete chance, Shakti says, and they became close during the program. But it wasn’t until after their separate international exchanges—her in Barcelona and him in the US—that they knew they wanted to be together. They’ve been a couple ever since, officially getting married in 2018 in Mauritius with 21 of their former MBA classmates in attendance.
The cultural diversity in the MBA helped Shakti to see things from multiple perspectives, to broaden her approach to problems.
It also trained her to deal with different types of workloads, she says, from interview preparation, to group work, to individual assignments. That helps her manage her workload now, and to know how to prioritize her time.
Joining the streaming war
It took two roles after graduating before Shakti ended up at Netflix—first as a marketing intern at Orange for six months, and then a year as EMEA marketing project manager for ZOO, Google’s creative agency.
Six months after Johann landed a job in Amsterdam with Deloitte, Shakti began looking there for a new challenge—she soon came across her current role and has been with the company since February 2018.
So, what’s it like working for one of the biggest companies in the world?
“It’s a very performance-driven culture, which they always put forward—they want their people to do their best,” Shakti explains.
“I’ll have been there for two years in February and I don’t think there’s been a day where I’ve ever been bored, or thought I’m not learning enough.”
New shows are continuously being released for different markets, so Shakti’s role involves a constantly changing workload. There’s also a lot of emphasis put on freedom and responsibility within Netflix’s teams, something Shakti says is a strong incentive for employees.
There’s also a direct link back to her childhood. “In terms of culture, you’re always working with different groups, so being open and tolerant is very important,” Shakti says.
Her favorite recent shows have been Sex Education and Money Heist—but she admits that you have to watch a lot of content to keep up to date with the latest releases and whether certain shows will fit certain markets.
Is she concerned about the nascent streaming competition?
“The CEO of our company has said a lot of times the competition will only help, and we should focus on the content and product being great because that’s why people come to us.
“As long as we keep doing this really well, that’s how we’ll keep going and not lose to the competition. We’re not focusing on what the others are doing, but on making sure what we do keeps getting better.”
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