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Thembisa S. Mshaka on how Etta James and Gil Scott-Heron impacted her life

Thembisa photo by Stella MAgloire (4)Thembisa S. Mshaka
Author and Founder, SEEIT Films

How did you determine your career path?
I was all set on a career in world politics when an entertainment industry internship put me on an alternate course. Twenty-plus years later I am deeply grateful that I started at Absolute Artists as an intern, executing contracts for legendary artists like the late Etta James and Gil Scott-Heron.

What other industries connect to your career choice?
Along the way, my work as a creative executive has placed me in roles of advertising copywriter for Will Smith, Beyonce’ and Nas, among many others; promo writer/producer and talent director for celebrities from Queen Latifah to Jamie Foxx and on shoots for campaigns I’ve written and now filmmaker through my company SEEIT Films. My short film, “The Divorce Counselor” world premiered at the 2013 Pan African Film Festival and is being webcast now exclusively on I am completing my first feature-length screenplay and working on producing my first feature, Skateboard, Skateboard, written and directed by Tank Burt.

Define innovation methods you apply to your business and life.
Marketing my short solely through digital platforms was a huge lesson for me. Without using one piece of paper, my film experienced two sold out premieres and hundreds of online views in its first 48 hours. Exclusive web partnerships to get my film seen is a method I will keep in my arsenal.

What role does technology play in your daily life?
Technology keeps me connected, raises my profile, allows me to connect others, and now, serves as a distribution avenue for my book, Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business, as well as my films.

Describe the skill sets that are essential to future business leaders and innovators?
In my field, entertainment, a global view is more essential than ever. Sixty percent of music sales come from outside the U.S. Preservation of revenue from intellectual property in the age of digital piracy is paramount. The skillets needed today include knowing how to follow the money, how to create content authentically, and how to sustain meaningful, profitable business relationships in a period marked by fleeting moments.

Describe goal-setting methods you use and how you evaluate personal success?
I make what I call “life lists” every six months to lay out what I want to accomplish. Sounds simple but it works. No matter how big the goal or distant the dream may seem at the time, putting it on the life list makes it tangible for me. Once it’s out of my head and on the list I have made myself accountable to cross it off the list.

Name your favorite role models for success in two industries?
In the entertainment space, I love what Shonda Rhimes has created as a writer and creator of television drama. She is a champion of on-screen diversity, and deftly avoids stereotyped characters, all while appealing to the mainstream consistently. In the political realm, I am a a great deal of respect for UN Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice. Her brilliance and effectiveness under tremendous pressure inspires me deeply.

Names three books that changed how you saw life and that you would recommend to others?
I have to name my own — Put Your Dreams First, because I never imagined I would learn so much from writing it — or that it would take seven years of my life; I have a 13-year-old and a 2-year-old — and my book is the “middle child!” It also gave me the motivation to practice what I preach in it and pursue film. I also recommend Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis — a masterpiece on the isms. Finally, The Personal Touch by Terrie M. Williams is a must in business and in life.

Describe why lifelong learning is important to you.
Lifelong learning matters to me because it is one of the most important keys to personal growth. Not only are we in a rapidly changing world but the ways we learn are also changing. Education in the traditional sense is still valuable but experiential and hands-on learning have become crucial in ways we couldn’t have anticipated — because in many areas, technology is outpacing curricula. I love to learn in a class setting, but I am also a proponent of learning through travel and cultural exchange. I took my son to Egypt when he was 10 and I know that it changed his life and informs the way he sees himself and the world. It was equally life-altering for me.

Where do you enjoy vacationing?
Places with warm weather and pristine beaches call the loudest to me. As a lover of travel I am happy to venture to new places and experience life through fresh lenses. My most memorable trips have been to the Valley of the Kings and the Nile in Egypt, the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica and my summer in Turkey as a high school exchange student with the American Field Service.

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
I would change the inequality that exists between men and women, socially and economically. The world’s women and girls should have equal access to and treatment throughout their educational lives. They also deserve equal pay to their male counterparts when performing the same work. This would create stability for women and families worldwide; stimulate innovation, and reduce health risks for women and children for generations to come.

If you could change one thing about your self what would it be?
If given 30 minutes a day for self-improvement, I would use it in a restorative, decidedly low-tech fashion each day: meditation, yoga, physical training, stretching, and massage would all be in rotation. I need to spend more time doing less, being still, and recharging!