How Columbia Helped International Student Sarah Deborah Austern Break Into the Music Industry

Sarah Deborah Austern was a student at Copenhagen Business School. With some encouragement from a friend of hers who had been a visiting international student at Columbia, Austern applied to earn her Certification of Professional Achievement in Business at Columbia and was accepted. Once here, she enrolled in classes at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, which would become the catalyst for her career in marketing in the entertainment industry. Now a digital campaign manager for Warner Music in London, Austern recounts the opportunities that she discovered at Columbia and in New York – including the coveted internship that led to her dream job.

How did you end up coming to Columbia from Copenhagen Business School?

I always knew that Columbia was a highly ranked university, so I was very interested in studying under the Columbia Business School faculty. So I spoke to one of my friends, Karen Thyssen, who had been a visiting student at Columbia. I thought it would be an impossible mission to get into Columbia, but she encouraged me to apply. The staff was very helpful regarding my application. Eventually, I got in and enrolled in the business certification program in fall 2012. I guess I needed that encouragement from my friend to tell me that it wasn’t impossible to get into Columbia.

What was your academic experience like?

The way the business certification program works, I could choose from a class list, but I could also enroll in other classes. At Columbia Business School, I took retailing leadership and entertainment marketing. At the School of Professional Studies, I took introduction to negotiation. At Columbia Business School, I got to study with other M.B.A. students, so it was a great learning experience to connect with other professionals from the U.S.

My major was international marketing and management, so I had some freedom to apply to courses across different schools as long as there was a link to business.

What was it like to be in New York City?

So many doors open when you’re living in New York and attending Columbia: After my semester at Columbia, I landed an internship at Warner Music. I had taken a course at Columbia Business School, and I was fortunate enough to hear the CEO of Warner Music, Stephen Cooper, as a guest lecturer in my class. I applied for an internship at his company, and I got it. So during my second semester, I wasn’t studying at Columbia, but I was working in New York as an intern at Warner Music. That would never have happened if I hadn’t been a student at Columbia.

Can you tell me about your internship? What was it like?

I worked on their online marketing in a department called D2C, digital to consumer. We created digital campaigns for our artists every time they had a release coming up; for instance, we worked on Bruno Mars’s Unorthodox Jukebox. We would promote the singles and albums digitally and then coordinate with the record label and management to generate creative campaigns. We also worked with a lot of technical developers to create the best fan experience possible.

Thanks to the internship, I later got a full-time job at Warner Music in London.

How did you transition from doing the internship in New York to getting hired full-time in London?

I wrote my thesis for Copenhagen Business School on Warner Music and the digital development in the music industry. I did all my research when I was in New York and interviewed several key people – among them, the CEO of Warner Music. After my internship in New York, I went back to Copenhagen and wrote my master’s thesis.

When I graduated from Copenhagen Business School in March, Warner Music offered me a job. So I’m not an intern anymore; I’m a full-time digital campaign manager here in London. It’s a lot of fun.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention about your time at Columbia or your time in New York?

I think Columbia is able to attract the most talented people around the world. Therefore, I learned from the best faculty. In my case, that led to building a really good network, having good connections, and preparing me for real-life business cases. Even now, what I learned at Columbia helps me every day.

And you wouldn’t be working at Warner Music if you hadn’t studied at Columbia that one semester.

Absolutely. Where I am today is solely because I was a student at Columbia.