Wonder Women of New York 2023: Samira Bakhtiar

Samira Bakhtiar
Samira Bakhtiar (Image credit: AWS )

As director of global media and entertainment at Amazon Web Services (AWS), Samira Bakhtiar leads a globally dispersed team of engineers and sales executives, serving top-level media clients including Fox, The Walt Disney Co., Paramount Global and NBCUniversal.

A native of Southern California’s Aliso Niguel beach community, now a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker and family woman, Bakhtiar serves as a guide for her clients, in many ways, to a media-services technology revolution encompassing production, contribution, postproduction and primary and secondary distribution, all of which are being placed into the cloud and reimagined in the process. 

Amazon solutions are now possible and Bakhtiar revels in the opportunity to show her clients how to achieve them. 

Recruited from Cisco Systems five years ago, Bakhtiar said AWS was the only technology company that she knew of that had a full line of “purpose-built” solutions for the emerging needs of her clients, many of whom were diving headfirst into the Streaming Wars at the time. 

AWS, she said, “has the right set of solutions required to meet the transformational moment that we’re in right now — from transcoding to machine learning to dynamic ad insertion.” 

The capabilities of AWS’s technology and engineering partners opened up vast new terrain for the creative sales executive to serve her client base. 

Transformational, she said, was the collaboration between Bakhtiar’s team and NBCU on Peacock, which Bakhtiar said evolved from concept to launch on a record-breaking timeline of just 12 months back in 2020, despite the constraints of the pandemic. 

“A lot of our customers still want to understand how Peacock did that in such a short period of time,” said Bakhtiar, who is also proud of AWS’s work in regard to NBCU’s huge live-streaming efforts for Super Bowl LVI in 2022 and for the Beijing Winter Olympics. 

High-Stakes Operation

The monetary stakes involved with Bakhtiar’s work can be considered somewhat staggering. AWS commands around 16% of Amazon’s total revenue, which reached nearly $514 billion in 2022. Amazon does’t break out which portion of the total AWS pie is occupied by media services, but suffice it to say that amid an $82 billion-a-year operation, we’re talking about big-time sales numbers. 

In her affable phone chat in early February, Bakhtiar didn’t brag about that kind of data. But she did say how proud she is of the team she’s built, which she said is 60% women and diverse across areas of race, age and gender orientation. 

This matters to her. Nearly two decades ago, Bakhtiar was a political science undergrad at the University of Arizona, cutting her teeth on a nascent political career while working for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). She’d taken the LSATs and was on her way to law school. 

A lot of our customers still want to understand how Peacock did that in such a short period of time.”

— Samira Bakhtiar

Then, in one of her classes, she saw a recruiting pitch for the Cisco Systems sales associate program. She was immediately hooked on a career as a technological evangelist. She soon embarked on a one-year Cisco internship in North Carolina, learning all the elements of cable network technology. That was followed by a three-year MBA program stint at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and then a full-time sales career with the foundational Silicon Valley tech giant, initially serving a “large Long Island cable operator” client for Cisco.

Ultimately, she transitioned to media and entertainment tech, a job she absolutely loved —  but felt quite lonely as the “only woman” among the top-level sales and engineering executives in her division. 

Inclusion Is a Priority

At AWS, she’s built the kind of working group “that the 23-year-old Samira would be comfortable with,” she said with mild laughter. 

Certainly, Amazon seems “comfortable” with Bakhtiar. 

“People come to AWS to work with inclusive leaders like Samira,” Marc Aldrich, general manager of AWS for media and entertainment, to whom Bakhtiar reports, said. “Samira is a passionate, inspirational leader who empowers everyone around her. She has high expectations of herself and is a role model on how to lead authentically, with empathy and professionalism.”

Added Yana Podroubaeva, a senior sales account leader who reports to Bakhtiar at AWS: “I’d say that there is no one like her. Samira leads with a strong vision, incredible passion, she empowers her teams and gives back to the industry by way of mentoring and thought leadership. I’m grateful for such a strong role model to be inspired and encouraged by every day.” ▪

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!