Christian Harris, VP of northern Europe, Deezer
Christian Harris, VP of northern Europe at Deezer

‘The notion of a set career is scarcely relevant in the 21st century,’ says Deezer VP

12 Jul 2016

Streaming services like Deezer are becoming ubiquitous in modern life. Pick up your phone and you likely have at least one streaming app on your home screen.

But how do you build a successful career on the other side of that app? We speak to Christian Harris, VP of northern Europe for Deezer (which recently entered into a partnership with Three), about his career trajectory and how the idea of a set career is losing its relevance.

What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?

I have worked in digital in a variety of guises since 1999, but joining Deezer was a new area for me as it focuses so heavily on music content, specifically.

Taking the role of VP of northern Europe was of interest to me as it leveraged many of the skills and experience I have developed over that period – partnerships, driving subscriptions, working with rights holders, mobile first, and building a brand and reputation in a highly-competitive market.

What led you to the role you now have?

I did a degree in philosophy, which does not lead directly to any specific career. In my opinion, study does not need to relate to the work you eventually do in your career, because the notion of a set career is scarcely even relevant in the 21st century. We each have skills, passions, knowledge and a will to succeed to varying degrees. Individually, we must each leverage these in a wide variety of ways over our working lives.

I started my career in my local BBC radio station doing vox pops and cutting (physically cutting!) short pieces for local radio programmes. So, from the very beginning I was making media for broadcast, and had to learn what works and why in a very practical and fast way.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered in your career?

Breaking into TV was a really tough challenge, as it seemed like everyone was prepared to do pretty much anything to get a start in that industry. The result was that I, like many people, had to work for free. That would be illegal now, but back then it was absolutely standard.

We also routinely worked seven days a week when a show was in production. My record was 69 days without a day off. It was a job I loved, so I had no problem with it at the time, although it would be incompatible with the family life I have now.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

The person who had by far the biggest impact on my career was Antti Viitanen [then working at Sonera Zed], who hired me out of TV into mobile internet in 1999.

I joined as a specialist on the youth segment as this had been my area in TV production, but I quickly moved over to product management under Antti’s leadership. The core skill of product development and management taught me the fundamentals of internet products, from research, prototyping and beta testing, to version control, marketing and tracking. This understanding of product has been an invaluable core skill throughout my career.

Antti taught me the art of the possible and, under him, I learned that, in the end, it’s the distribution of content that will control the game.

What do you enjoy about your job?

In Deezer, we work with the most powerful content of all – music. No one is untouched by music, and it’s as important as oxygen to many.

I have worked in B2B and D2C (direct-to-customer), and I can tell you that D2C is by far the more exciting, as you can see the results of everything you do and take ownership. The range of subjects I deal with on a daily basis is extremely broad, from PR to marketing and advertising investment, to highly-commercial partnerships and relationship management. I greatly enjoy the mental challenge of moving seamlessly between such diverse topics.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I have seen a lot and can bring that experience to bear on a younger team. I fail as much as I succeed, but I’m good at dusting myself off and know I shall come back stronger afterwards.

I’m good at quickly assessing the validity of an idea or proposal. Speed is essential to effective execution, and I work fast. However, I always try to keep an eye on the long-term so I have a clear idea of where the path should lead. I am quite an impatient person and I like to see progress happen quickly.

I am not a good listener and I have had to learn to give people the space to express themselves – I’m still working on it! I am quite a factual person, which is good in some respects, but it is really important to connect with people on an emotional level and empathise. If people don’t feel valued, they won’t be happy or fulfilled.

How did Deezer support you on your career path?

Even if my title doesn’t change, I am developing every day, because every day I try to learn something new. The market doesn’t stand still and new techniques must be adopted quickly. The team and mentality here has changed for the better and we’re doing things now we could only have dreamt of a year ago.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

I hire first on attitude, then on skills and experience.

Your attitude needs to be positive and relentless, creative and adaptable. The world is changing quickly and we need to change with it. You will never be the finished article; we are all learning.

You need to believe in yourself and in what the business is doing. If you are not passionate about it, why should consumers bother when they have so much choice?

Digital is a highly-competitive arena, but never give up. In the words of Jefferson Airplane: “Follow your dreams. You know what I mean.”

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