Spotlight Story

Sam Saliba’s “Amazing Ride” at Google

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Sam Saliba MBA 00 has focused his career at the intersection of technology and creativity, starting at Intel’s Consumer Marketing division, “a great role straight out of b-school.” When the Internet bubble burst, he joined Lucasfilm Entertainment Company to oversee marketing of their Star Wars–based video games. Four years later he moved to Ubisoft Entertainment, where he managed a portfolio of entertainment software products and a brand management team.

“It was a dynamic five-year experience, watching the company and the industry evolve,” Sam said.

In early 2011 Saliba got a call from Google about joining the Consumer Marketing team to lead engagement efforts for their Search product. “At first I thought it was mistake that the recruiter called me, but one thing led to another and it’s been an amazing ride ever since.”

What drives you in your work?

I’m passionate about being involved in work that matters and that makes an impact. Some of the programs I lead have a reach among literally hundreds of millions of people. It’s very cool to be involved in marketing efforts that have the potential to touch so many lives—work can feel like more than “just a job” when it stands for something you care about. I recently led a campaign called Search Stories that involved uncovering some amazing stories about our users where Google was able to make an impact in both their lives and the world around them. My team also leads an annual student art competition called Doodle 4 Google that posts the winning Doodle on our homepage for millions to see and provides the winner a college scholarship. Right now, I am working on our annual year-in-review called Zeitgeist, which shows the role that Google Search played in 2012. We take a look at what the world most searched for over the past year and package that together in a way that tells a compelling story. I find all those programs personally rewarding for different reasons.

How does Google’s culture of innovation inspire you—and keep you busy?

Google fosters a culture where if you think of something, you can do it. This allows for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. I get to work on ideas that might start with just a spark of imagination and then are fueled by data, if the idea makes sense then there are resources available to make it happen. When it comes to launching ideas and marketing campaigns, we don’t strive for instant perfection right out of the gate but rather continual innovation. Because most of what we do is web-based, we get do-overs. Lots of them. This iterative process allows me to take away invaluable lessons and apply it back into my work. We have a culture where it’s OK to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes and correct them fast. It requires working (very) quickly, learning faster and taking next steps based on data. The velocity and volume of work I’m involved with keeps me busy—probably busier than I’ve ever been— but I find it inspiring everyday and I’m learning a lot in the process.

Where is your career headed?

Being at a company like Google that has multiple business units and product lines, there is opportunity to move between groups and try new things. I see myself staying here for at least a few more years. I’d like to continue working with and leading a great team, and to look for leadership opportunities where I can make an impact—likely still in the area of Consumer Marketing.

I think it was Confucius who said “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I’ve tried to follow that throughout my career, and I hope to continue to do so. I continue to be fascinated by the pace of technological innovation and where things are headed with devices, from mobile to tablets to new forms of wearable computing. I’d like to be involved in introducing some of these tech marvels to the world in new and innovative ways—highlighting benefits for consumers that were never imaginable a few years ago.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

In the early years following graduation, I believe my UC Davis MBA helped me in the practical sense by providing the tools and foundation for understanding the macro-impact of my actions within an organization. For instance, understanding how new products are brought to market or why there might be such a quarter-to-quarter focus on revenue and spending. I eventually supplemented these skills with new additional things learned “on the job” within the work environment. The type of material from my UC Davis MBA experience that I find most useful today are the O.B. courses I took and the content we covered—that’s the stuff that is sometime harder to learn while in the midst of the job, and the type of organizational skills that are really beneficial regardless the size or nature of company you’re working for. In particular, teamwork and leadership were two standout characteristics from the GSM that have been helpful throughout my career—really, learning how to collaborate well with teams and leading a project to successful outcomes. These were things I did in b-school and still find myself doing today.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

The most amazing thing that happened was the birth of my children. The most interesting thing was working on products associated with two of the highest-grossing films of all time—Avatar and Star Wars—and watching those films be produced. It was exciting to watch the creative diligence and technical innovation that went into the development of those franchises.

Your favorite GSM memory?

There are too many memories to pick just one. Skateboarding in the parking structure (was that even legal?). Playing intramural soccer and feeling like I was going to cough up a lung. Late night—very late night—group study sessions. Class projects on some amazing companies in their infancy that went onto to do great things: Pixar, PayPal, Amazon. And, finally, presenting our real world consulting project to the executive leadership of Tower Records, telling them that their fundamental business model was being seriously disrupted by the Internet—which turned out not so fortunate for them.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My wife, Maria, and I have a home in Oakland, Calif., that we share with our two action-packed boys, Zacary (nine years old) and Paolo (seven years old). We love living in and exploring the East Bay. It’s a great place to raise kids, and we’re still discovering new things after 10 years of living in the area. We’re looking forward to spending a couple weeks vacationing in Southern Europe this winter.

How do you support and participate in the GSM now?

My strongest connection to the GSM is the lifelong friendships that I’ve made and the network of folks living in and around the Bay Area that I try to keep in touch with. In addition to that, I’ve made myself available for informational interviews on occasion to current and prospective students. I’ve helped out with internship opportunities. I give to the Annual Fund every now and then (which our class started—go 2000!), and when my schedule permits I attend GSM functions in the Bay Area.


 

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