Skip to Content
Alumni profile

Sahar Elhabashi ’85

New role at Spotify calls on analytical chops
Courtesy Photo

Spotify uses personalization tools driven by machine learning to track its listeners’ habits and introduce them to music they might like. Now, as vice president and head of the company’s content business, Sahar Elhabashi ’85 is helping apply those tools to its expansion into podcasts, which involve very different listening behavior. 

Grappling with the project’s technical demands has brought Elhabashi back to her educational roots at MIT. “I’ve been in several meetings where people were putting differential equations on screen, and I was like, ‘Holy crap, I haven’t seen that symbol in 35 years!’” she says. “I wouldn’t understand a lot of the stuff we’re doing if I hadn’t taken those courses.”

Though Elhabashi was a self-professed “major math geek,” she came to campus not sure what she wanted to do with her love of numbers. Eventually she landed in macroeconomics, delighted by the way it used higher math to explain complicated phenomena: trade policies, exchange rates, the gross national product. 

With an MBA from Columbia, Elhabashi spent most of the first 30 years of her career launching TV channels worldwide for MTV and Discovery—she loved transplanting the “kernel of an idea” to other markets and figuring out how to grow it profitably, she says—and helping build Condé Nast’s entertainment division into a behemoth worth hundreds of millions of dollars. She followed the division’s president, Dawn Ostroff, to Spotify in 2018.

Elhabashi brings the analytical rigor she honed on MIT p-sets to business strategy as Spotify eyes new acquisitions and moves into new markets. “Addressing problems from a quantitative perspective has always helped my business decision-making,” she says.

Those skills came in handy this spring as the covid-19 pandemic spread. Along with implementing partnerships to broadcast public service announcements for the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Elhabashi helped Spotify adapt to the public’s changing needs. Stay-at-home orders made commute playlists suddenly much less necessary than meditation podcasts. “We’re the best in terms of discovery,” she says of Spotify’s personalization tools—tools the company put to work to help listeners under quarantine expand their aural horizons.

Elhabashi expects that some of this expansion may persist as the pandemic fades. “Maybe you listen to 10 genres when you’re stuck at home, but when you have your same social schedule again, you go down to four,” she says. “But you used to listen to two. So you’ve doubled!”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot
Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot

It will soon be easy for self-driving cars to hide in plain sight. We shouldn’t let them.

If they ever hit our roads for real, other drivers need to know exactly what they are.

crypto winter concept
crypto winter concept

Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some still hold on for dear life.

When a cryptocurrency’s value is theoretical, what happens if people quit believing?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.