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Real Humans of Amazon: Michael Larrenaga, Booth ’15, Manager of Vendor Management

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What is the path from A to Z?  How do you leave one industry for another?  Anything you need along the way can certainly be delivered by Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.  And leading MBA programs, like University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, can ensure you are equipped with the leadership, analytical skills and global perspective to thrive.

In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, we hear from Michael Larrenaga, who decided to leave the finance industry for marketing and brand management.  (The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, had also left finance/Wall St. in 1994 to develop his retail business plan.)  Read on for how a Booth MBA and more wound up leading Larrenaga to a new career at Amazon.

Michael Larrenaga, Chicago Booth ’15, Manager of Vendor Management – Exercise & Fitness at Amazon

Michael Larrenaga, Chicago Booth ’15, Manager of Vendor Management – Exercise & Fitness

Age: 33
Hometown: Redwood City, CA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Southern California, Business Administration – Finance and Accounting
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: University of Chicago, Booth School of Business Class of 2015; Marketing Management, General Management, and Organizational Behavior
Pre-MBA Work Experience: Investment Banking (2 years), Private Equity (3 years)
Post-MBA Work Experience:
Brand Management in Beauty (1.5 years), Retail Buying (3 years)

Why did you choose to attend business school?
After several years in finance, I wanted to make a career transition to marketing or brand management so that I could be more involved in some of the tactical decision-making of running a business, as opposed to being more analytical on a higher level in finance.  I also viewed business school as an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate what I had learned in my 5 years in business to figure out what I wanted to do for the next stage of my life.

With our new baby girl and our dog

Why Booth? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I liked Booth’s quantitative approach to marketing.  I felt that it would be a good way to utilize the analytical skills I built up during my time in finance towards marketing so that I wouldn’t be a pure outsider.  On top of that, that statistical rigor and emphasis on studying signal for the noise seemed to be more in-line with the trend in business towards “Big Data.”

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
The Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) program really helped me gain an appreciation for the interpersonal skills I need to be an effective manager.  I find myself thinking about the soft skills covered in LEAD on an almost daily basis.  At the same time, the statistical analysis skills from my Regressions and Data Driven Marketing have really helped me parse through large data sets quickly and make business decisions quickly.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I worked at L’Oréal in a Brand Management internship in New York.  I had a great experience getting a better sense for marketing/brand management in the real world and interacting with some great brands and products.  I enjoyed my time there and accepted an offer to come back full-time after I graduated because it was a great place to start my post-MBA career in an interesting industry working in a role that I had targeted when I came into business school.

Rowing on the lake in Central Park

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I had some geographic restrictions (Seattle) due to my wife’s career.  I still wanted to stay in brand or retail, so I worked with Booth’s career development office (I was quite pleased they continue their support post-grad) to get an idea of various companies in the area that would work.  I had heard good things about Amazon from friends who had worked there and liked the scope of the roles in retail due to the autonomy and P&L management, plus the ability to manage a team.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Reach out to alumni.  Sending an e-mail with [almamater].edu really opens a lot of doors and helps get coffee chats and phone conversations going.  This really helps get an idea for an industry of choice and helps differentiate companies you may want to recruit with, while also potentially providing you an in for an internship or full-time job.

Biking on the NordicTrack S22i— “market research” on the exercise and fitness industry!

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I would have done a bit of case prep with the consulting recruits.  While I felt that the prep we did in marketing was great and helped me do well in the interviews that I had, the consultants are by far the most rigorous in their prep.  Having been on the other side of interviews, I can generally tell who has gone through consulting prep because they are so polished and on-the-ball.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
Amazon really does not care that much if you network during their on-campus sessions.  I know MBAs are trained to push for as many coffee chats as possible, but it is not as much of a part of our recruiting process as it is for other companies/industries.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Don’t sign up for everything you want to say “yes” to – sign up for the things you want to say “hell yes” to. There are just so many cool things to do during business school and so many wonderful opportunities, it is like drinking from a fire hose. Be selective otherwise you won’t get the full benefit from each, because time is the main constraint.

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
I love the ability to shape just about anything. Amazon really does a good job empowering its employees – it’s actually a bit of a learning process to switch to the “seek forgiveness rather than permission” atmosphere. What makes it work is the hard and fast commitment to the customer at the end of the day. If you do something that is supported by data/reason and is for a customer benefit, you can’t get into too much trouble.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.