A pioneering e-commerce company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, Amazon is the world’s largest online retailers by annual revenue. While China’s Alibaba is larger than Amazon when measured in packages delivered, Amazon dominates the highly evolved, online retail market in the United States in both revenue and packages delivered.
Amazon was founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, who left a Wall Street firm in New York earlier that year to move to Seattle and work on a business plan for what would become the online retail giant. Since then, Bezos has remained with the company as president, CEO and chairman.
Amazon began as an online bookstore and has since diversified into many sectors, disrupting traditional retail along the way. Amazon survived the dot.com bust of the early 2000s, in large part because its initial business model was more focused on growth and diversification than on profit. In fact, it didn’t call for turning a profit for the first four to five years, which—while causing some stockholders to complain about the slow growth to profitability—ultimately contributed to its success.
Amazon has software development centers, customer service centers and fulfillment and warehousing centers around the world, employing more than 240,000 full- and part-time employees. Like other leading technology firms, Amazon has continued to innovate, rolling out same-day delivery service, launching its own lines of consumer electronics, expanding into groceries and exploring drone technology. Not only that, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has emerged as the world’s largest provider of cloud infrastructure services.
Amazon is the biggest tech employer of graduates from elite business schools. In 2015, the company hired more than twice as many top MBAs as Microsoft, the next biggest tech employer, and is the fifth-largest employer of graduating MBAs overall, according to U.S. News. As at Google, MBA graduates at Amazon receive a great deal of autonomy and responsibility from the start.
Amazon is nothing if not data-driven. Metrics on everything from how customers behave to what recruiting strategies yield the best results inform processes and practices at the tech firm. This approach dovetails beautifully with the skill sets many MBAs hone in business school. Amazon also remains true to its leadership principle of hiring for talent and committing to developing employees with a focus on individual growth.
Amazon, perhaps more than any other top MBA recruiter, is a meritocracy in the strictest sense of the word. Founder and CEO Bezos has a strong vision in terms of how to run a business, one that extends to managing the company’s human capital. The firm encourages feedback, whether positive or negative, and pushes employees to challenge the status quo and ideas of others. The idea is that “harmony is often overvalued in the workplace” and “that it can stifle honest critique and encourage polite praise for flawed ideas,” according to the company’s core principles. Employees are encouraged to “disagree and commit” to critique colleagues’ ideas.
Employees are expected to work long and late and are held to extraordinarily high standards. This, combined with a competitive work environment, results in an exacting culture that can be difficult for those who either aren’t very good or very passionate about what they do. But although harsh for some—a 2015 New York Times exposé provided a very strong critique of the company and its culture—for those who excel at the work, the environment provides significant rewards.
Like Google, Amazon’s is a high-growth work environment with many of the trappings of smaller tech startups, such as pet-friendly workplaces, an on-site farmers’ market and more.
Employees undergo regular review sessions, enabling them to track their performance against set metrics. Teams are ranked, and those at the bottom are eliminated each year, which incentivizes employees to try to outperform one another.
Amazon recruits current MBA students and alumni for both internship and full-time positions worldwide, and MBAs have an important place within the company’s overall plan for leadership development. Amazon values people who can balance long-term strategic thinking with tactical execution and who have the ability to make data-driven decisions.
Amazon also seeks MBAs for the global approach they can bring to the business, since many will have worked and studied in more than one country. The range of experience and variety of backgrounds MBAs bring is considered invaluable because it provides many different ways of looking at the company and its growth. Amazon also prizes the analytical skills that MBAs develop during their time in business school.
Amazon seeks MBAs who are innovative and will own projects from conception to completion. The company looks to business schools for applicants who it believes have both the potential for development over the long term as well as the ability to make an immediate impact. This means being able to drive key business decisions from day one, but it also calls on MBAs to roll up their sleeves and perform tactical tasks they might not have expected post-MBA. Amazon believes this willingness to pitch in is important to employees’ learning experience and to developing a deep understanding of the business and its consumers.
Amazon seeks nimble leaders who move fast, are capable of breaking down and solving complex problems and have a strong will to get things done.
The best way for an MBA to get in with Amazon and end up with a full-time job is to apply for an internship. MBA interns at Amazon can find themselves in any number of roles, whether launching new products, finding ways to optimize the customer experience or evaluating the company’s future business investments.
Amazon offers a robust eight- to 12-week summer MBA internship that lets participants hone their decision-making ability in real-life consumer, finance, HR, technology and operations environments. According to CNN Money, Amazon hosts more than 170 interns from more than two dozen business schools each year.
Leadership Development Opportunities
Amazon provides its MBA-level employees with multiple leadership development opportunities—described in detail on its website—that include ownership of and autonomy over large areas where they can make decisions and develop strategy with considerable impact.
- Retail Leadership Development Program (RLD) is a three-year program in which MBAs rotate through two different functional roles in two distinct business categories. Participants develop an understanding of the key roles within the various categories and become effective managers.
- Pathways Operations Management (Ops) is a three-year, field-based program in which participants advance through progressively challenging assignments in Amazon’s warehousing and shipping centers. As part of the Ops program, MBAs develop leadership abilities to complete fulfillment center and customer service operations.
- The Senior Financial Analyst (SFA) program is a three-year leadership development program in which participants evaluate and quantify new business ideas and perform data-intensive analyses to improve the way Amazon serves its customers.
There are also special programs for MBAs to develop leadership skills and advance within the company’s HR and Web Services’ Infrastructure teams, as well as opportunities for MBAs in the roles of senior product manager—inventing new products and features on behalf of customers—and senior program manager—working across the organization to solve problems related to operations, supply chain and logistics.
In 2015, U.S. News reported that Amazon hired 110 MBA graduates from six leading business schools reporting specific hiring numbers—Michigan’s Ross School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School, MIT Sloan, Duke’s Fuqua School, the University of Chicago Booth School and Columbia Business School—more than twice the 47 graduates from those same schools who headed to Microsoft. Several other leading schools that don’t release employer-level data—such as Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, also include Amazon on a list of the companies that hired their graduates. Without specifying how many students were hired, the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell notes that Amazon is its second-largest employer, behind Deloitte.