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We are proud of the successes of our Alumni and their contributions to a diverse range of businesses.

PWC Almuni Portrait_Micheal Spiegelman

Michael Spiegelman

A former public-sector consultant is now leading the way to bring more innovative content to more people around the world.

Transforming entertainment

A former public-sector consultant is now leading the way to bring more innovative content to more people around the world.

Michael Spiegelman

Vice President, Global Product Innovation, Netflix.

What were your early years like?

I grew up in a pretty idyllic town about an hour north of New York City. Then I studied international relations at Pomona College in California. I spent the first half of my junior year abroad in Paris and the second half doing an exchange program in Washington, DC.

What led you to PwC?

During the semester I spent in Washington, my cousin was working at Coopers & Lybrand, before the merger, and I thought his job in the public-sector practice sounded really interesting, so I decided to apply. I joined the firm as a research associate in Washington, DC.

Any lasting lessons from your time at PwC?

Absolutely. Sometimes clients were in suits, sometimes they were in jeans and flannel. Sometimes they were casual, sometimes they were buttoned up. So I learned how to quickly adapt to different people, and how to get up to speed on a lot of different sectors and different issues. I was also fortunate to have really inspiring managers who were great mentors to me, and they helped sparked my interest in organizational development—how you build productive teams and culture, how you improve processes, and how you develop leaders.

How do those lessons apply to your work at Netflix?

We’ve gone from being a DVD service to a streaming service, to a service that creates original content. We’ve gone from focusing on just the US market to being in 190 countries around the world. So a lot of my role is about problem solving on a global scale, figuring out how we can make Netflix relevant to more people in more places as we grow our business internationally. We’ve had to adapt and change significantly along the way, and my experience as a PwC consultant gave me the foundation to quickly learn about new markets.

More specifically, what do the product innovation teams do at Netflix?

We’re charged with effectively distributing content to people around the world. How do we build products that make the experience for our members better—whether they’re logging in through a television or a mobile device? What kind of content needs do people have in different markets, and how can we help people understand that our catalogue offers that sort of content? How can we just make the service smoother, easier, and simpler to use?

As a leader, how do you spark innovation in others?

I try to remember that it’s not my job to give people the answer. My role is to challenge people and push them to take risks. So I keep an open mind. I counter assumptions. And I encourage people not to fear failure. I think about things like, how I can play to this person’s strengths? What kind of things would help give her a greater purview of work to do? Where does he need coaching to get to the next level? Where can each member of my team be in two or three years, and how can I accelerate their growth to get there?

Of all your achievements so far, what makes you the most proud?

Making customers happy. I feel very proud, and privileged, to be developing something that inspires joy in people everywhere from India to Japan to Brazil to France. I’m also proud of helping the other people on my team grow. At Netflix, our culture is all about maintaining a high-performance environment, where we trust and encourage people to do what’s right for the business, so being part of how that culture grows and evolves is really exciting.

What has surprised you the most during your career?

I never thought I’d be in the tech space. But it’s fun when life leads you in unexpected directions. Back in 2000, a former PwC colleague of mine reached out because she was looking for someone to help her build a strategy practice at a company in San Diego, which focused on helping businesses get online. So I joined the company iXL and had a great time there until the dot-com crash hit a year later. Our office closed in August 2001 and everyone was laid off. Then three weeks later, 9/11 happened. No one was hiring, but we knew the Internet wasn’t going away. So a few of us started a small consulting firm and we had some great projects for a few years. Then, in 2003, one of my college friends who worked at Yahoo Music mentioned a product management role there. At the time, I didn’t even know what a product manager did, but I knew I could figure it out.

I spent seven years at Yahoo, really learning about the discipline of customer experience, how to understand what audience you were building for and what tech could do. It was a major period of innovation in digital music and videos. And ultimately, that experience is what led to me getting a call from a recruiter at Netflix, where I’ve been since July 2010.

When you hire, what are you looking for?

I’m always looking for people who are great learners. People who bring a lot of candor and honesty to the interview. During an interview, people often think they’re being judged on their accomplishments, and they tend to talk about the successes that they’ve had. But I want to hear someone admit they don’t know an answer, or tell me about a time when they made a wrong decision. I want to hear about a failure and what happened after that. Our business is changing all the time. We need thoughtful people who can adapt to different environments and new challenges.

How do you spend your time when you’re not working?

I love to travel with my girlfriend. And music is another real source of enjoyment. I also spend time volunteering with a couple of nonprofits focused on clean energy and climate change. I’m on the board of a solar nonprofit called RE-volv and I co-chair a committee with the Full Circle Fund, which brings professionals together to help Bay Area nonprofits with their time and money.

Who or what do you most admire?

My grandfather, Jack. He was never the first one in the room to speak, but he’d come in with wise words toward the end of a discussion. He was great at listening to different points of view and different perspectives, finding common ground. He brought people together. In terms of a public figure, I’ve long admired Teddy Roosevelt, especially his quote about ‘how glory belongs to the person in the arena, not the person who sits on the sidelines’. I really love that idea, how glory belongs to the person who takes risks—who gets back up after falling down and tries again.

This interview was conducted and edited by Jen Swetzoff, founder of CLOSEUP, a creative content studio in Brooklyn. She was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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