Pursue Your Passion, Work Hard and Soar

by Savoy Staff

Sean Cohan, Chief Growth Officer and President of the International Business, Nielsen

For Sean Cohan, staying true to his values while leaning into discomfort has been a common theme throughout his decades-long career as a global leader in the corporate media world.

Sean is the Chief Growth Officer and President of the International Business at Nielsen, the global leader in audience measurement. He leads a team of more than 4,000 people worldwide while overseeing Nielsen’s strategy, partnerships, corporate development and global growth businesses.

A media and content junkie since childhood, Sean instinctively knew he would one day work in the media industry. Though the path wasn’t without challenges, there are core values and lessons he attributes to his success: develop a passion, work hard and find mentors with the same values and mindset.

“Throughout my journey, I always had a strong sense of what makes me tick: global flavor, complex creative problems, learning from people and transformation,” says Sean. “What brought me to Nielsen was the opportunity to engage in all of those things.”

Lean into what you love

Born to a Black mother and a Jewish father in a predominantly white, middle class area of Long Island, Sean was heavily influenced by his mother, a music teacher and his father, an English teacher.
Music, film and television were integral parts of his upbringing and set the stage for his career.

In a nod to his parent’s profession, having a ‘lesson plan’ and trying to be the most prepared person in the room has been a constant since his undergraduate years at Harvard University and then Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Today, Sean prioritizes preparing thoughtful, strategic guidance for his team across the world. “As leaders, we have to think ahead and provide the key takeaways so they can drive the best results.”

Sean adds that for people of color there historically has been an expectation of doing your job not only well, but near-perfectly. “It’s not just working to excel at the job, get results and align with colleagues, but also networking and personal brand management, “he says. “Perfection is, of course, a delusion. But there is, without a doubt, pressure at times to clear a sky-high bar.”

Find mentors and colleagues with similar values

On any given day, no matter what country you find Sean working in, a common denominator is people, and he says to succeed, it’s imperative that you align with those who have the same values, awareness, warmth and commitment.

Sean cites Nielsen CEO David Kenny’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and early interactions with executives such as Chief Operating Officer Karthik Rao and Chief Diversity Officer Sandra Sims-Williams as key reasons for joining the company. “As much as what you’re doing is important, who you’re doing it with is critical, both in capability and the prioritization of what’s right, he says.”

Sean has long been involved in DE&I causes, and while there’s been progress, there’s more work to be done to achieve true representation in the workforce. Thinking back to his upbringing where he was often the outsider, Sean reflects on turning that challenge into a strength. “My comfort with being different has helped in a myriad of situations, whether negotiating a difficult deal over tea in India or discussing business in a boardroom in Tokyo. It’s about learning, listening and respecting differences, and also finding points of connection with people regardless of their backgrounds.”

Finding your niche and support through allyship, mentorship and championship cannot be overstated as part of any rise in Corporate America. Sean credits part of his own success to having mentors who invested in him. He says, “I’ve been fortunate to have folks who believed in me, which instilled faith in myself and put me in the best position to succeed.”

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