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School of Business and Management

Alumni Profile - Neil

Neil Shah studied MSc Marketing and is now Global Marketing Director, Smirnoff at Diageo.

Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol with over 200 brands sold in 180 countries.

Neil shares his perspective of what it's like working for a global brand, what it takes to be a great marketer and his advice for students interested in a career in marketing.

 

Headshot of alumnus, Neil Shah

You did your bachelors in Biochemistry at King’s College London. What influenced your decision to study an MSc in Marketing at Queen Mary? My Biochemistry BSc helped develop analytical, numerical and problem solving skills which I have found very useful in my career to date. While studying Biochemistry, I took classes in Psychology, which sparked a fascination in the decisions people make and the drivers of these decisions; this curiosity and a personal interest in brands and culture led me towards a career in marketing.

After a few years of working in marketing, I decided an academic foundation in the field would be useful and returned to university to study an MSc in Marketing at Queen Mary.

What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you enjoy learning about? I really enjoyed the fact the course not only focused on the core fundamentals of the marketing discipline across product, price, place and promotion, but how it offered the opportunity to learn about other aspects of business management. My favourite modules during the course included:

  • International Marketing: A great overview of strategic marketing management covering all of the fundamentals.
  • International Marketing Communications: The course was delivered by a real expert and in a hugely entertaining manner. Advertising development is a real passion of mine and this class definitely contributed to that.
  • Multinationals & Global Business: Helped develop a perspective on the operational elements of modern corporations and how this leads to competitive advantage.
  • Innovation & Global Competition: Illuminating insight into how innovation can transform businesses and lead to superior consumer experiences.

Was there anything that surprised you in your studies? I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the students on the course. This added a unique angle to the experience and really helped broaden my perspective, as well as leading to some very interesting debates in classes!

You were part of the Virgin Media Marketing Graduate Programme. What was that experience like? Would you recommend graduate programmes to aspiring marketers? It was a fantastic experience! The programme offered four rotations across the Brand & Marketing function, meaning you got a holistic understanding of the core elements of brand management and how a marketing department works. It was also amazing to get the chance to work with an iconic brand such as Virgin.

I think graduate programmes are an excellent place for young marketers to start their career due to the varying experiences you get across the business – this can include working across key aspects of the marketing mix, as well as other related areas such as sales. This helps build you into a more rounded marketer which is useful as one progresses in their career. 

You’ve won several awards for your marketing prowess. When did you first recognise the marketer in you and what do you think it takes to be a great marketer? Wow, thank you for the flattering comment! My journey into marketing started with a curiosity for consumer behaviour and a passion for brands – these are both important at a foundational level. I think it’s also important to have a high degree of adaptability, given the increasingly uncertain world we live in, in order to make sure the brand remains relevant. Finally, it’s important to be commercial, as well as creative; marketing is not just about making advertising, it is about managing brands, meaning, being able to draw conclusions from financials, consumer data and other numerical sources is important.

Can you describe what you do now and what a typical working day looks like for you? I’m currently Global Marketing Director, Smirnoff at Diageo based in New York City. One of the things I love about my job is the scale of the brand (130+ countries) meaning I get to speak to people all over the world and the scope of working across the marketing mix. These things lead to great variety, meaning no two days are the same! However, a typical day would look something like this: I start the morning with an early morning call with the team in Nigeria who are in the process of launching new packaging on a key product locally – we discuss and align on the launch plan. I then meet with the team in Europe who have secured new distribution in a major retailer in the UK; we talk about the implications of how this will help us accelerate growth of the brand there. Then into a session with the South Africa market, where we brainstorm solutions to an unexpected pricing challenge due to external factors. The last meeting of the day is with Smirnoff’s advertising agency, 72andsunny, where we review new advertising concepts and discuss an upcoming shoot. I end the day celebrating a new product launch together with colleagues in the amazing Diageo office bar.

What’s your proudest achievement so far? 

I’m most proud of contributing to the development of people I have worked with and seeing them succeed, the brands I have been part of growing, and the deep connections I’ve been able to make all over the world as a result of working at a multinational company like Diageo.

Looking back, how did your time and study at Queen Mary help with your career and development? Studying an MSc in Marketing at Queen Mary helped build a foundation of marketing and business management which has been helpful within the more strategic aspects of my job. More broadly, the course has also been useful when coaching others on the functional aspects of marketing.

Can you give one or two examples of favourite places on campus? As someone who works in the drinks industry, I’m sure you would expect that the bar would be one such place! The other is actually the East End of London – the campus gives you access to one the most vibrant parts of the city and it feels as though this is an extension of the university grounds.

What would your advice be to students interested in studying MSc Marketing at Queen Mary? My advice would be to try and get clear on why you are looking to do a masters and for what outcome. For example, a career in brand management, to go on to a doctorate, etc. This will help you pick the right courses during the programme and focus your coursework on specific areas to 
then ensure you get the best possible experience tailored to you.