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Real Humans of Amazon: Varun Haralalka, Michigan Ross ’19, Sr. Instock Manager

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Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, Amazon has grown into the world’s largest retailer by annual revenue. In 2018, their sales accounted for 43 percent of all online sales, and the company marked a $1 trillion valuation in 2020. To reach such heights, employees at every level need to contribute innovative ideas, solid analytical skills and nimble management abilities.  Operationally, as part of supporting reaching global delivery destinations and ensuring Amazon’s continued success, instock managers oversee planning, analysis and optimization of inventory management systems and processes. Varun Haralalka, a Michigan Ross MBA ’19 and senior instock manager at Amazon, shares his story in this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, about interning at Amazon, how Ross prepared him for management in the tech industry and more.

Varun Haralalka, Michigan Ross MBA ’19, Sr. Instock Manager at Amazon

Varun Haralalka, Michigan Ross MBA ’19, Sr. Instock Manager at Amazon

Age: 28
Calcutta, India 
Undergraduate Institution and Major:
Delhi University, Economics Major
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration:
Ross School of Business, 2019
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4, Management Consulting
Post-MBA Work Experience:
6 months, Technology/Retail

Why did you choose to attend business school?
After four years in consulting, I felt a need to learn more in order to make more comprehensive and refined business decisions. I knew business school would be the ideal platform to equip me with a better understanding of business concepts.

On the personal front, I wanted to further develop my leadership skills in a low-risk environment that advocated learning by doing, alongside a set of classmates with very diverse perspectives that would push me to challenge my opinions and really think outside the box.

Why Michigan Ross? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Post-MBA, I wanted a career transition as a business manager in the technology industry and a sizeable number of Rossers went into the tech industry after business school every year. I knew I would have access to the best resources to help me find the ideal job.

But above all, I chose Michigan Ross because I felt at home even before getting to Ann Arbor. The Ross community is extremely tight knit – more than 400 amazing individuals call Ann Arbor home for two years. Coming from India, I was looking for a place that would make my transition easier, and I knew Ross was that place for me.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
The list would be endless, but some experiences stand out. Firstly, it enabled me to work with an extremely diverse group of individuals that helped expand my horizons and adapt to different working styles, which has been key in my current role at Amazon.

Secondly, I learned about critical business concepts like finance, operations, marketing, and much more, which helped me to look at businesses from multiple angles and find value add opportunities.

Thirdly, my MBA experience helped me learn the importance of taking the time to reflect. At work, days and weeks pass by in the blink of an eye – it is always valuable to take a step back, reflect and think about the bigger picture.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at Amazon over the summer in the Retail Leadership Develop Program (RLDP). I was working on the home entertainment product family as an instock manager – my role involved demand forecasting and inventory management, mixed with longer-term projects to optimize operational costs.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to make impactful data-driven business decisions and at the same time work with multiple stakeholders to see it to execution. It was exactly the business manager role that I was looking for and decided to return full time. (I also love Seattle, which made the decision easier.)

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I chose Amazon due to three reasons (yes, I am an ex-consultant and have to break it down in 3’s). First, it is a very customer-focused company and insists on delivering the highest standards, which I felt would push me to take on challenges and force me to think differently.

Second, I admired the action-based culture that encouraged fast decision-making rather than a tiered bureaucratic approach. And third, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest is very unique and I knew I could call Seattle home after Ross.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Talk to people – I couldn’t emphasize how much this helped me in my job search. Learning about different roles and companies was extremely important as I was able to keep my search targeted. Ross alumni are always willing to take the time to speak to you!

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Leave recruiting stress behind – I know it’s easier said than done, but it makes the search so much smoother. I wish I had been a little less stressed – I found myself applying for jobs that I wasn’t really excited about, which reflected in my application, which resulted in me not getting interview invites. It’s a vicious circle.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
A couple. Lower focus on “networking” pre-interview as they tried to determine a candidate holistically over four interviews. Second, a designated “bar raiser” interviewer (you don’t know who), who focuses on hiring people that ‘raise the bar’ for the rest of Amazon.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Focus on your story – it’s the best way to connect with a company as you really start to identify the embodied cultural similarities. It also helps one standout to interviewers who have been listening to generic answers all day.

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
The flexibility to design you career path. Amazon has a rotational culture with most colleagues moving to a new role every 18 months, which is completely up to you based on your interests. Being the massive giant that it is, there is always an exciting role somewhere at Amazon.

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.