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Zahra Mawani, Head of audiences and analytics, Royal Opera House

Path to power

 

Aged 16, I had a difficult decision to make: to attend dance college and train as a ballerina or to focus on my A-levels. Practicality (and perhaps a fondness of chocolate) prevailed and I chose the latter. After studying maths at Imperial College, I started work as an analyst using econometrics to create model-based media buying tools. It wasn’t long before I decided that I wanted to see how analytics could benefit a wide range of industries, so I went on to take various business-facing analytics roles in retail, financial services, agency and consulting. Most recently, I was lucky enough to merge my life-long passion for ballet with my work in becoming the head of analytics and audience data at the Royal Opera House.

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

My first day at the Royal Opera House - walking through the stage door and realising, “this is my office”.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Focus on making a positive impact to the business and believe in yourself.

 

Did 2018 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

 

Pretty much. I use an operating model that addresses both business-as-usual and has enough flex for any unexpected surprises. This gives the ability to easily re-prioritise based on business needs.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

I think the battle between traditional models and modern deep-learning methods will be interesting to watch, especially seeing which are able to drive most value, both in terms of strategic insights and operational effectiveness to wider areas within an organisation.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

We’re lucky to have a fantastic brand and HR department. That said, ensuring projects are interesting and support both technical and commercial development as well as showing passion for the work has always helped me bring on board great talent.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

Commercial analytics - influencing larger strategic decisions organisation-wide.

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