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Krishan Bhatia

Krishan Bhatia

Advertising Sales Executive VP - Business Operations and Strategy, NBCUniversal

Krishan Bhatia Focuses on Technology and Talent

The executive VP of business operations and strategy for advertising sales at NBCUniversal says intellectually curious and flexible people are vital in today’s digitally driven world.

by Jen Swetzoff

Sometimes, a stroke of luck interrupts the best-laid plans. When Krishan Bhatia graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, he wanted to work for a multinational consumer packaged goods (CPG) company, similar to an organization at which he had interned one summer in Germany. He interviewed with Booz Allen Hamilton in hopes that it would offer him exposure to the CPG industry. But, as luck would have it, all the partners Bhatia met during his interview process worked in the firm’s emerging media and entertainment practice — and they convinced him to change course.

Over the next nine years, Bhatia helped build Booz Allen Hamilton’s media and entertainment practice during a transformational time: Cable television fragmented the viewership, in a manner similar to what’s happening now in the digital landscape, and online commerce proliferated. Early in his career, Bhatia had the opportunity to advise the top management teams at leading companies within the global media and entertainment industries — on strategy, digital media, and performance improvement.

Now, Bhatia heads up a management team of his own, overseeing the operations and strategy of NBCUniversal’s advertising business, a portfolio of entertainment, lifestyle, sports, news, and Hispanic TV networks and digital properties that reaches 93 percent of all U.S. adults every month and has more than 130 million monthly digital users. He also leads NBCUniversal’s data and advanced advertising offerings across TV, digital video, mobile, programmatic, and social media products and manages a broad array of partnerships with leading companies in the mass media and broadcasting industries. He is the vice chair of the trade organization Digital Content Next (formerly the Online Publishers Association), and a member of the board of the IAB Tech Lab and the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). In 2009, Korn/Ferry International named him one of the 25 most influential South Asian executives in the media and entertainment industry.

During a recent conversation with Strategy&, Bhatia discussed the accelerating shift toward digital platforms and why he’s proud of his team.

When you think about the media business, what excites you most?
Technology. I think we’re at this tipping point where almost everything we’ve been expecting in terms of content consumption and convergence has been happening in earnest during the past 12 to 18 months. Consumer behavior is accelerating and the advertising ecosystem is becoming more dynamic. I have an incredible vantage point from which to observe and help lead change in the industry .

Can you describe that vantage point?
It spans everything from content distribution on new platforms, to the creative canvas of advertising, to the data that informs both how we should be distributing content and how advertisers can reach audiences more effectively. Across the company, whether we’re talking about entertainment, sports, news, Hispanic media, or kids’ media, technology is the big unifier — it’s transforming everything on a daily basis. There hasn’t been a single year in which the industry has accurately predicted the shift toward digital platforms. It has always outpaced our expectations .

What’s a specific example of the digital transformation you’re seeing?
Television is one. The proliferation of time-shifted and cross-platform viewership, and the advertising models that come along with it, are completely transforming the business from the ground up. Just 10 years ago, a show was scheduled and broadcast at a certain time. Its success was measured by how many people tuned in at that point in time to watch that program. But now, in addition to the television premiere, the episode will also be available on demand, online, on mobile platforms, and on third-party platforms. Each year, viewership is increasingly shifting to nonlinear and digitally enabled platforms. For instance, a recent episode of NBC’s new series Blindspot generated 27 percent of its total viewership on digitally enabled platforms .

The first implication of this trend is that you have to be there with the premium content, where particularly younger audiences, but increasingly mass audiences, are consuming content. They’re watching it whenever they want and on whatever device they want. If you’re not there with your content, you’re missing out.

The second implication is that this new reality is creating incredible opportunities for advertisers to follow audiences. We can use data to identify and target specific groups that go beyond basic demographic segments. And instead of a 30-second static commercial, you can now create interactive formats that allow users to engage with a brand in a deeper way.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I’ll usually have a number of meetings with technology partners or clients, as well as one-on-ones or team meetings with my direct reports. Every other week, our sales leadership team comes together to discuss the marketplace, strategy, and upcoming projects. In between, I intersperse quick and frequent phone calls or emails, either to check on progress or to update other executives about specific initiatives. Given the pace that we all work at, and the complexity of the issues that we face, we need more frequent communication, but also briefer and more succinct communication. I scatter that work throughout the day whenever I have time. One or two evenings a week, I’ll have business-related events or dinners. Otherwise, I try to have dinner with my wife and three children .

What’s something you learned as a consultant that you find applicable in your work today?
One thing that I took away from my years as a consultant was the importance of investing in people — in recruiting, training, and talent development. For a professional services firm like Strategy&, people are the core asset. I’ve adopted many of the talent strategies I learned there and am applying them in my current role.

I usually have at least one meeting a day that’s dedicated to the broad area of talent management. Maybe it’s related to recruiting or interviewing. Perhaps it’s a form of mentoring, relationships that I have either inside the company or outside. Or maybe it’s working with my HR and recruiting leads on specific talent development initiatives.

What first drew you to consulting?
I liked the idea of working on a diverse set of business issues for a diverse set of companies, while learning through an apprentice-based model. For almost a decade, I focused on the media and entertainment business at Booz Allen Hamilton, working on everything from strategy development, to performance and operational improvement initiatives, to advising companies on how to grow into new markets and evaluate partnerships and acquisitions. The exposure I got, at such a young age, to some of the biggest brands in the world — and also to some of the greatest business leaders — was incredible.

Why did you join Comcast?
From the beginning, it was clear to me that the company had big ambitions: It was going to invest meaningfully and it was going to measure its success over the long term. During the interview process, I met with less than a handful of people at the company, which demonstrated to me the culture and the way that decisions were made. It sounded like I’d have the chance to be part of a relatively small executive team that could help drive significant change. And that’s what happened. The vision that we discussed 10 years ago, when I first joined the company, has come true. It really solidified with the acquisition of NBCUniversal about four years ago. That was the biggest bet to date on the future of content and media, for a company that had its origins as a local cable company. And the bet is paying off.

In your opinion, what traits are most important for success?
More than anything, when I’m hiring, I look for intellectually curious people. No one has all the answers, but if you can ask the right questions, you can develop hypotheses and strategies and initiatives about what is potentially going to happen, and how a company can position itself for that change .

The second trait I value most is flexibility, because nothing is a foregone conclusion, and things are changing almost daily. Being able to work in an environment that is inherently dynamic — not just fast-paced, but dynamic, as in, what you thought yesterday may no longer apply tomorrow — is really important.

Any career advice?
When exploring next steps, I think it is important to seek out a company that has momentum or offers a clear growth opportunity. Then, you want to try to join a group within that company that is able to actually drive that momentum or tap that opportunity, and work for a leader who is both able and empowered to drive that change .

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Accomplishment-wise, it’s all about the team for me. That’s really what I’ve been working on in this role for the past five years or so, taking a long view while making decisions almost every day about how we’re going to recruit, retain, organize, and develop people. And now those people are making a real difference for us — as a group and as a company. That’s the most rewarding part, to see those people who have risen up have incredible leverage and move the organization forward .

Jen Swetzoff is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she worked with Strategy& as the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

Disclaimer: Please note that historical references to Booz & Company and Booz Allen Hamilton are found in this article/section since the alumni featured here left the firm prior to Strategy& joining the PwC global network of firms.

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