Armed with a love of the French language, a passion for film and a business savvy, 25-year-old Anna Marsh flew to Paris to pursue her dream. It was 20 years ago.
Fast forward to 2022 and the former Aucklander now runs France’s biggest media company. Marsh is the general manager of Studiocanal, she is also the mother of twins Amélia and Valentin and wife of the French engineer Max. They live in a small, typically French town called L’Etang-la-Ville about half an hour’s drive west of Paris.
A quick Google reveals that the area is surrounded by picturesque castles, green spaces and charming cafes with the famous gardens and Palace of Versailles just 20 minutes down the road.
It’s a far cry from the seaside suburb of Castor Bay where Anna Marsh grew up. A former student of Forest Hill Primary, Diocesan for Girls and Otago University, the Kiwi-turned-Parisian says the road to the top has not been without its challenges.
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“Learning the nuances and intricacies of French business as a young woman in Paris was difficult at times. But once I understood how the French operated, what their goals were and what they expected, it was so much easier.
She says the key was not being afraid to make a mistake and “trusting your intuition”. As we speak via Skype, Elvire, head of corporate communications at Studiocanal and the Canal+ Group, is able to perfectly translate into English Marsh’s well-known mantra, “always trust your instincts”.
France has always been on his radar. At the age of 16, she took part in a student exchange, which ignited her love for the language and the culture. It was a love that would eventually bring her back.
“But I knew I obviously had to study. It was really important to me. So when the opportunity presented itself to study in a business school in Paris and because I was at the end of my studies in my fifth year at the University of Otago, I knew that the moment had come. .
When she arrived, she was thrown into the deep end. She was only really fluent in written and read French, her language skills needed work on. “Sitting in long meetings and having to follow instructions in French, and French is very, very specific and precise, was what you would call a real-world experience,” she laughs, “but it was a wonderful experience and trained me well.”
From there, Marsh first worked as an intern at a company headquartered just off the Champs-Élysées. “It was like a dream. I remember very early, waking up and pinching myself almost every morning, telling myself that life surely can’t get any better than this. I remember thinking that I had to hold on to that “wow” moment, you know?
And the “wow” moments were to continue. As an avid reader, film buff and classical ballet enthusiast growing up, working in a field of the arts has always been her dream. When the position presented itself to Studiocanal, it was “fate”. France is of course the country that invented cinema, with the Lumière brothers. It also has the largest number of cinemas in Europe (6,000).
Studiocanal produces feature films and television series, sells and distributes this content, and has one of the largest and most prestigious film catalogs in the world. With 450 employees in offices across Europe, Asia, America, Australia and here in New Zealand, it is a truly global company. But don’t believe that everything is French cinema.
“Obviously, French cinema is a cornerstone of this catalog. But we also have films from the United States, classic British titles, a huge Italian library and many more. It’s part of the cinematic heritage that goes back 100 years.
Boasting a catalog of classic titles like Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Bridget Jones, Johnny English and Kiwi hit Goodbye Pork Pie, Studiocanal has been able to build a gross annual cash flow of $1 billion. New Zealand dollars over the past 30 years. One of Anna’s personal accomplishments is commissioning the hugely popular Paddington Bear film series.
Being Kiwi has served Anna well. “In New Zealand, we grow up to be adaptable and ready to accept change, and we’re particularly good at solving problems. That kind of work ethic goes over well in France. But she says she likes the difference too. between the French and the Kiwis.
“I love this kind of juxtaposition between this more Anglo-Saxon British fashion, New Zealand culture and European text. And I think together the balance in the mix is really interesting.
For anyone who has traveled to Paris, the first impression of a Parisienne is someone who might be a little arrogant, even condescending, towards strangers, but Anna says once you get to know them, they are anything but. that. “I think French culture and probably like a lot of cultures, they want to take the time to get to know each other and to trust you. Once this confidence is acquired, it is there for life. It’s a very loyal, kind and respectful culture that also taught me a lot.
While her business acumen and number 8 thread mentality were embraced by her French colleagues, they were less accepting of her no-nonsense approach to fashion. “I came to work in jeans, trainers and a sweater, just to be comfortable and continue working,” she laughs, “but I was very quickly taken under the wing of a colleague who taught me how to go shopping. From now on, sneakers are only for the weekend, and you always have to come to work in heels.
Long hours and lots of traveling are part of the job, but whenever possible Anna, Max and the kids go away for the weekend. “I think that’s one of the great things about living in Paris, being able to hop off to Amsterdam or London or Spain or Sweden for a weekend, just to get a breath of fresh air and open your mind to different cultures and places.”
Covid has obviously affected their trips back to New Zealand to see family, but they hope to return this Christmas. She says her kids love New Zealand, the fish and chips on the beach and the relaxed pace of life.
“Thinking back to my childhood, I feel so lucky to have the time I spent at the beach, to be so close to nature with such a positive and warm community. Kiwi families are so lucky to live and growing up in New Zealand, and there are times when I’m really sad that my kids miss it.
And while France is now at home, reminders abound, especially in its pantry. “Every morning we have Vegemite on toast, and when we go to dinner we always have a bottle of New Zealand white wine. France is the home of champagne, but New Zealand really does make the best chardonnay and sauvignon. Marsh has also become very adept at making pavlova and says that whenever they are invited to dinner parties, she is always in charge of bringing the dessert.
As Anna tries to keep up to date with what’s going on in New Zealand and the political landscape here, she admits she’s much more connected to French politics.
“I don’t really have a deep understanding of the impact of the decisions that are made in New Zealand. But when I tell people where I come from, the response is often very positive. And I think Jacinda Ardern led New Zealand with spark and intelligence. I think we can be proud of that. »
She also thinks we should be proud of all of our strong female leaders. “We have enjoyed four decades of female leadership in New Zealand, while France has yet to elect its first female president.”
She has some advice for New Zealanders, especially women, who want to make their mark in the world. “I think as Kiwis we can sometimes be quite polite and maybe not as direct as some other cultures and it’s good to be confident and take a step forward. Be brave and bold and n feel free to reach out because networking and contacts are so important.
So what next for this high-flying Kiwi? “It’s interesting because I don’t really think about my career from a very personal perspective. I think I’m so invested in the business. I’ve been here since 2008, watching it grow and transform. I feel so lucky to direct it.