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Real Humans of Amazon: Chidinma ‘Chi’ Esinaulo, Kellogg 1Y MBA ’21, Sr. Product Manager

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In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Chidinma ‘Chi’ Esinaulo, Northwestern Kellogg 1Y MBA ’21, shares the motivation behind her goals and how her desire for meaningful impact led her to Amazon. Chi also talks about how the team structure and more at Kellogg prepared her for her role as Senior Product Manager there. Read on for her story.

Chidinma ‘Chi’ Esinaulo, Kellogg One-Year MBA ’21, Sr. Product Manager at Amazon

Age: 31
Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria
Undergraduate Institution and Major: 1) Covenant University, Information and Communication Technology. 2) University College London (UCL), Masters in Telecommunications
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year: 1-Year Kellogg School of Management, Class of 2021 
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Cisco Systems & Microsoft – 6 years- Technology Specialist
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Amazon, Sr. Technical Product Management at Amazon Web Services

Why did you choose to attend business school?
After building a successful career on the technical sales side of enterprise communication technology, I spent more and more time with African executives who felt that the solutions available to them didn’t exactly fit the nuances of their markets and organizations. This inspired me to influence product strategies and ensure enterprise products are more inclusive of use cases and perspectives that are currently not well represented or prioritized. I wanted to pivot into product management so I could be an influential voice in the rooms where product decisions are being made. I chose to go to business school to solidify the business, analytical and leadership skills needed to succeed in a product management career.

Why Northwestern Kellogg? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
There are many things that make Kellogg great, but I chose Kellogg primarily for the people. Over the years, I’ve interacted with many alumni from top business schools; however, Kellogg alumni made the strongest impression on me. When I lived in the Netherlands, I didn’t know anyone. The first person who invited me to her home for dinner happened to be a Kellogg alumna. During my application process, current Kellogg students also went the extra mile in giving advice, answering questions I had, and being generally supportive. On multiple occasions I saw a cheerful willingness to help others and pay it forward, and this was something that resonated strongly with me. There was also a genuine curiosity from students and professors to get to know me as a person, and this felt very inclusive. I believe you can get quality academic education in several places; however, the human element is far rarer. This is why I chose Kellogg.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
My role as a product manager demands a strong understanding of organizational behavior and social dynamics. As we know, the Kellogg academic experience involves a large amount of team-based work, which requires us to learn how to accommodate different personalities and work styles, effectively brainstorm and synthesize ideas without the luxury of being in the same room, and occasionally have difficult conversations while maintaining a positive working relationship. The mix of these experiences has helped me thrive in my role, which often involves working with multiple groups of stakeholders whose interests and priorities may not always be aligned.

Also, being a successful product manager at Amazon requires strong data skills. Classes like Retail Analytics and Pricing taught me how to analyze data to make pricing and promotion decisions faced by manufacturers and retailers.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I enrolled in the 1 Year program, so we didn’t have the opportunity to do an internship; however, I went into Kellogg with a focused goal of securing a product management position and that did not change.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I chose Amazon because I was excited about the problems Amazon Web Services (AWS) is trying to solve: We are enabling individuals and organizations to migrate to the cloud and scale their operations without having to worry about the underlying technology supporting these workloads. I was also intrigued by how fast AWS were outgrowing incumbents in the industry and I knew I wanted to be a part of a company driving the digital transformation of our world. I also took into account the fact that Amazon had several other businesses and product areas that interested me, which meant that I would have flexibility to explore different products further down the line.

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
I built my career driving the deployment and adoption of communication and collaboration technologies for enterprise customers. Prior to COVID, I was already a strong advocate for the Future of Work, and helped executives visualize a workplace where employees had the option to work from anywhere, at any time, with any device. However, most organizations didn’t feel an urgency to adopt this type of transformation. When the pandemic hit, companies needed to support remote work for their business continuity and these solutions became business critical applications.

Now there is increased demand (and investment) in providing solutions for a workplace that has become inextricably intertwined with our lives. We are just now scratching the surface of the endless possibilities available within the communication and collaboration space. It is exciting to see where and how this technology evolves and what new career paths open up as a result.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
One thing I did, which I would do again, is I started my job search very early: I reached out to alumni and other employees at my target companies and scheduled coffee chats and informational interviews to learn more about their roles and the overall company cultures. Doing this also helped me get on the radar of the companies I was interested in. I also spent time talking to 2nd years who had completed product management internships as well as recent graduates who were now full-time project managers. This gave me a good sense of the day-to-day aspect of the job and helped me identify learning areas such as analytics classes I wanted to take in order to get ready for the job.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
One thing I might do differently is spend less time worrying about things that are beyond my control. I have learned that not every interview, assignment, or project goes exactly as planned and sometimes that is okay. The best you can do is prepare adequately, be confident and fully show up. Do not stress about the things that you have no control over.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
No, there weren’t many surprises because the 2nd years and the Interview Prep Groups (IPGs) provided very helpful resources on what to expect during recruiting. The Kellogg Tech Club also hosted several recruiting panels and Q&A sessions, where we got to hear from 2nd years about their recruiting experiences.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
One piece of advice I wish I had been given was that an MBA is not a destination, but a journey – and one that is over very quickly! – so make a conscious effort to be present, savor every moment and enjoy the ride. It is a pretty busy time, so there is a tendency to obsess on the next event, activity, or assignment you need to attend to. Being overly fixated on this can rob you of the full value of the present moment.

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.