Indra Suharjono is executive vice-president and managing director of MTV Networks International for North and Southeast Asia. She is responsible for the company’s growth and strategic direction, having to understand the key differences of each market and especially the forces affecting youth culture. Her initial role in 2005 was as vice-president of Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products, to which she brought close to 20 years’ experience in the media business. Earlier in her career, she had spells with Turner Entertainment and Warner Bros Consumer Products. She talks to John Cremer.
Why did you originally join MTVN and how has it changed since then?
The company was looking to expand its emerging consumer-products business in Asia, so it was an exciting opportunity to work with strong brands and bring Nickelodeon and MTV products into this market.
In the early days, our mission was to plant the flag in every country and localise our programming. That worked really well, but the landscape shifts constantly, so we must evolve and fine-tune the balance between being importers and exporters of content.
We now showcase original animation from China to all of Asia and are working closely with local and international partners to create the next big hit in children's television.
What are the continuing challenges?
We want to learn as much as possible about young people, so it's a priority to gain insights via research in key markets.
Since each market has unique nuances, it's also vitally important to have strong leadership at local level. I'm always keen to attract the right people.
We are constantly exploring ways to increase our distribution and get our content to audiences, whether that's on air, online, on a mobile or on the ground.
Youth audiences are typically the hardest to capture, so staying in sync with them presents unique challenges for MTV Networks and all content providers.
What were the key steps in your career path?
The key steps were working within the entertainment industry early in my career, learning the landscape of doing business within Asia, understanding the nuances of each market and really focusing on building strong business relationships.
What do you do to improve your general leadership and management skills?
Listen. That's the most important thing. No one knows all the answers, so stop, listen and learn.
What is it you hope to see in young executives and performers?
I look for young managers who are eager to learn the business. A great candidate is someone who is equally comfortable working with a pop star or a politician. That's a tough balance to find. Concerning performers or artists, I rely on our staff and the research we do to keep up-to-date on who's hot and who our audiences want to see. Then, we have to figure out the best platform to get them to the audiences; that is the exciting part for me.
What's your advice for young people hoping to break into your field?
Learn and read as much as you can, and always look for opportunities to expand your knowledge of the business side of things. The biggest tip I'd give is to go out there and get some practical experience in your chosen area. Find a way to intern or freelance to see if the sector or company is the right fit for you. Besides that, be passionate about whatever you choose to do and remember that nothing is impossible or unachievable if you really want it.
Which performers are your personal favourites and why?
I am a big karaoke fan and my favourite songs are the ones I can hum or sing. Among current artists, I love Duffy - her voice and songs are addictive. I also have a soft spot for the guys from All-American Rejects. They were amazing at the MTV World Stage event in Malaysia, and I love it when you see a performance that really connects with audiences. It was magical - they are so cute.
I'm lucky to have my family around me in Singapore and a sister in Hong Kong, so I spend time with them every holiday.
Lately, I haven't had much time to relax. But when I have time to decompress, I read a good book and reflect.
I also love speaking with my little nephew and niece.