Career Spotlight: Katherine K. Liu (B'98)

Katherine Liu (B'98)

Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, Viacom International Media Networks

Describe your current position and what led you to your job:

I’m senior vice president of strategy and business development for Viacom International Media Networks. I set the strategic direction and priorities for the ex-U.S. operations of Viacom, which comprises TV channels, multi-platform media properties, live events, consumer products and content sales for brands like MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. We have over 200 channels in nearly as many countries around the world, so it is a large and complicated but also very exciting place to be.

I didn’t start out in media originally. After graduating from Georgetown, I joined a two-year analyst program at an investment bank. The experience provided me with great training, but after my program was over I knew I wanted to work in a field that was more personally meaningful; I needed to feel more connected to the end product. We had a number of large media companies as banking clients, so colleagues at the bank helped me make inroads into news corporation and that was it. I’ve been working in this field ever since.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

I don’t have one single example, but my favorite experiences involve traveling around the world and thinking about the way people’s lives are changing as technology, ideas and economic forces evolve.  This, of course, has enormous implications for how they behave as consumers, what they are watching or listening to or thinking about and how our brands can build stronger connections with them. 

What is the best career advice you have received?

During graduate school I had the good fortune to take a course taught by Clay Christensen. On the last day of class, he talked about the importance of having a clear vision of your priorities in life. “Without a clear vision of what those priorities are, and an explicit strategy for achieving them, the summary impact of how you choose to spend your time, money and energy will in the end constitute a de facto strategy that will probably lead you somewhere you don’t want to be. So, develop an aggregate plan to give yourself backbone as the pressures of life demand more and more of your time, talent and energy. Remember that most of the big strategic decisions in your life will appear as small, tactical ones when you’re making them.”  

What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?

Be able to distinguish between the enjoyment of consuming media and entertainment and the desire to actually spend long hours working in the industry because the first doesn’t automatically lead to the second. If you think you want to work in this field, what do you specifically imagine yourself doing? How close do you want to get to the product—do you want to be part of the team that creates the stories and the pictures and the entertainment experience? Or do you envision yourself on the business side, perhaps selling or marketing or financing? In general, the creative and business paths are distinct and separate. Knowing which route you want to follow is a good way to start finding entry points into the business.

What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?

The toughest thing about working in international is communication. Not only are colleagues sitting in offices thousands of miles apart from each other, but there are so many spoken and unspoken cultural rules and behaviors to understand before you can really have a productive dialogue, let alone build trust and work positively together. I’ve had plenty of struggles working with teams across multiple time zones, wrestling with twelve-way conference calls and trying to find solutions that work for people with very different goals. The key is the ability to change your frame of reference, to look at a situation from three or four or maybe six different, possibly opposing angles, and then come up with a solution that is going to make sense from all of those angles. It requires a lot of patience, humility and empathy.

What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?

The single most important skill is to be able to build strong working relationships with all kinds of people. It’s not enough to have good ideas; you need to be able to work with and influence others in order for your ideas to take hold and have impact. Otherwise, you may have a good strategy that is never executed. Beyond that, the basics are critical thinking, fluency with analytics and financials and the ability to communicate your ideas clearly—in person, on the phone, in a presentation, in an email or whatever the medium is. 

What professional associations have aided in your professional development?

I’m very grateful to the Women in Cable & Telecom (WICT) organization, which sponsors several top-notch leadership and training programs that I have been very fortunate to be a part of and has introduced me to some remarkable people. My alumni networks and programs, including the ones Georgetown offers, have also been invaluable for providing great learning opportunities and connections.

If you could have another career what would it be?

I’m interested in the strategy behind brands and the business of creating something that generates powerful, meaningful experiences for users and audiences. Media and entertainment obviously hits the mark, but I think I’d be happy at any number of powerful consumer brands. 

How did your time at Georgetown University influence you and your career path?

Georgetown has such a dynamic, global environment. There’s a real curiosity about the world and all the different ideas, stories and people that shape it. I really loved that and the Jesuit tradition of educating the whole person. I think that gave me my internationally-focused outlook and helped me gravitate toward a career path where I’m truly interested and excited by what I’m learning and thinking about every day. You can’t ask for more than that.