Executive producer Susan Younis-Khobane on getting started at MTV & working across Africa

Twenty Ten Talent - Susan Younis

Susan Younis-Khobane is an executive producer for Viacom International Media Networks Africa, where she works on MTV BASE Africa, BET Africa, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Susan and moved to the UK with her parents when she was four. After interning at MTV in Los Angeles, Susan began her professional career at MTV UK immediately after graduating, working her way up from intern to producer. Her TV credits include TRL UK, The Lick, the European Music Awards, MTV Digs, The MOBOs and various work for Channel 4.

Susan relocated back to Lagos in 2010, where she freelanced for various clients including Coca Cola and Mnet; eventually heading up production for MTV BASE Nigeria as a Senior Producer. She helped steer the network’s most successful Nigerian show to date, “The Big Friday Show.”

In 2012, Susan relocated again, this time to MTV’s head office in Johannesburg, South Africa where she now works and resides. She regularly travels around the continent in her current role at Viacom.

You can find Susan on Twitter at @susanyounis and on Instagram at @msyou

I studied in the UK at the University of Birmingham. I undertook a BA in American Studies, just so that I could spend a year in the States. This led to an amazing exchange year abroad at UCLA in Los Angeles where I focused on TV & Film. I also interned at MTV Networks in Los Angeles, which was where I really started my career. Upon my return to the UK after my exchange year abroad, I graduated from the University of Birmingham and began working at MTV UK two weeks later. The rest is history.

I love shoes; I have over 100 pairs, so what better way to earn money than by working at Faith, which was a huge shoe store in the UK at the time. I spent my weekends, selling high street shoes to other shoe lovers. I also learnt how to master the art of selling in this role, something I do regularly in my current role when I’m pitching new show ideas to my boss or prospective clients.

I also undertook several unpaid work experience placements during this time to try and get as much experience as possible in the entertainment industry. I had placements at the MOBOs, record labels, management companies and radio stations before finally getting my first paid job at MTV UK.

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I think my first big break was getting accepted for an internship in Los Angeles. It was a stroke of luck, as I got a call saying someone had cancelled that day and would I be interested in coming in for an interview? The lady who called loved my London accent and asked me to come in. I got a placement for a week, which later turned into a year. I shadowed Brian Graden, who was the then President of Programming. He pioneered reality TV for MTV back when The Osbournes was a worldwide hit TV show. What a great intro to TV!

Coffee to start my day is always needed. As I oversee the production team in Nigeria and I am based in Johannesburg, I am always on mail and the phone with my amazing team there. I also have lots of conference calls with our Nigerian team to discuss new strategies and objectives for the month as well as ensuring we meet tight deadlines.

I normally travel to Nigeria once a month to implement our shows. Once on ground, you can find me either on location shooting with the team, overseeing edits, reading scripts and also helping with decks to pitch to prospective partners and clients. I love that my job allows me to also implement my own ideas. My boss gives me a lot of free reign when it comes to creating my vision for projects. I have recently started working on other Viacom channels in the rest of Africa including Comedy Central & BET Africa.

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Right now I am executive producing the Basketmouth comedy show “Lord of the Ribs” which will take place in Lagos. This is the first large scale Comedy Central activation in Nigeria so it’s exciting to be able to craft the TV show for that.

I am also working on an exclusive that I managed to secure for MTV BASE Africa. We will be premièring 5 previously unreleased videos from Nigerian superstar Davido on our network. This is a huge coup for us and will support his upcoming second album. We also have lots of exciting projects coming up to round off 2015 and my aim is to get them trending outside of Nigeria…

I love to practise bikram yoga and have intense workout sessions with my personal trainer. I also love to cook clean meals. I am a pro at making clean and guilt free meals now.

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Shoes!!! Whenever I travel I always have to buy a pair of shoes. On a serious note though, I can’t live without God and my family. I lost my dad in 2012 and I am still struggling to cope without him. It was undoubtedly the most devastating thing that has happened to me. My family are the sole reason I do what I do; to make sure they are all OK and provided for.

My biggest achievement was directing a special with the then President of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan in the lead up to the 2015 Nigerian elections. The campaign was MTV BASE’s drive to get the youth to vote in Nigeria and was tagged “Choose or Lose.” The show trended in Nigeria before and during broadcast and helped inspire Nigerian youth to go to the voting booth.

Twenty Ten Talent - Susan Younis and President Goodluck Jonathan

I’m always inspired by my mama. Anyone that follows me on social media will know how much of an inspiration she continues to be to me. She taught me how to hustle, be her own boss and never to rely on one pay check. I invest in property outside of my day job, something that she taught me from day one. Since moving back to Africa I have invested in both Nigeria & South Africa and hope to continue with her guidance.

I can do killer accents. I wanted to be an actress as a child so loved performing in all the school plays. I studied drama up to A Level so somehow perfected the art of doing various accents from French to Italian to American. I’m also pretty good at acting too even if I do say so myself…

I am a sucker for inspiration quotes. The one that I try to live by is from the late, great, Steve Jobs: “your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” I always try to make the best out of every situation and opportunity presented to me. I am always working with the bigger picture in mind and that’s getting one step closer to my dreams. Maybe when you interview me next time, my biggest dream will be a reality.

Looking ahead I’ll be creating and owning my own content that will be sold across Africa and in the diaspora. Watch this space…

I get to create amazing content with even more amazingly talented people. To see how far our Nigerian team has come over the past few years blows my mind. They are the most creative, passionate, hungry, focused bunch of people I have been blessed to work with. I am excited by what we will all achieve in the years to come when it comes to shaping Africa reimagined.

Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema

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