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Company focus: what’s it like working for Amazon?

In this series, we ask Cambridge MBA alumni about the realities of working at their particular organisations. This month, we ask Ruzanna Sargsyan (MBA 2010) about working for Amazon, in the UK.

Horizontal color image of female hands holding a digital tablet in a corridor of futuristic distribution warehouse. Ordering online from a modern warehouse on a touchscreen tablet computer. Large distribution storage in background with racks full of packages, boxes, pallets, crates ready to be delivered. Logistics, freight, shipping, receiving.

What is your role at Amazon and what is your professional background?

Profile photograph of Ruzanna Sargsyan

Ruzanna Sargsyan

I joined Amazon as a Pathways Operations Manager in their busy Fulfillment Center in Milton Keynes, UK. My first team assignment was as Pick Area Manager. After my first peak period of the year, I took on the role of Inventory Control and Quality Assurance Manager for eight months, then moved to Doncaster as an Operations Manager. After this was complete, I transferred to Hemel Hempstead, where I graduated from the Pathways programme as a Senior Operations Manager for change. Currently, I am a Senior Operations Manager (Outbound Operations). Prior to Amazon, I worked for a Procter & Gamble distributor as a Logistics Manager.

What do you like best about working at Amazon?

The best thing about working at Amazon is the opportunity to work and learn from truly interesting people. Moreover, the Amazon environment encourages you to take risks, innovate, try new things and tailor your own development according to the vision you have for your career.

What is the Amazon Pathways programme and what makes it unique?

The Pathways programme is a leadership development programme for MBA graduates. In this initiative, Pathways Managers get the fantastic opportunity to lead large teams and take on sizable projects that can have an impact on thousands of customers and associates in Fulfillment Centers, right from day one.

Why did you decide to join the Pathways programme?

I liked the ethos and vision of the Pathways programme, particularly its focus on operations and people leadership. Operations really is the heart of Amazon and it’s behind almost every innovation customers see, so it’s immensely rewarding to be part of the team that makes it all happen.

What does a typical Pathways Manager day look like?

The typical day for a Pathways Manager starts with shift planning and the team briefing. Together with each team, Pathways Managers spend a significant amount of time working on understanding and solving problems in their specific areas, and working towards continuous improvement initiatives. They also receive support and guidance from their line Managers and senior leaders on the projects they are working on. Normally, we expect Pathways Managers to become subject matter experts for certain areas, while driving improvement initiatives for their area as a whole.

How do the skills and knowledge acquired during your academic years support you in your Pathways Manager role?

As a Pathways Manager, you work with a very diverse team of people to deliver results. You constantly use data to understand key drivers and trends as you need to think outside of the box to find non-standard simple solutions for complex problems. These are the skills that the MBA experience helped me develop.

What kind of mentorship does Amazon provide to support your success in the Pathways programme?

We have a mentorship programme and we encourage Pathways Managers to look for mentors and build the network they need to support their development. Every building has a community of Pathways Managers who provide informal guidance and support to new Pathways Managers coming in. Moreover, all Pathways Managers have regular one-to-one sessions with their line Managers and General Manager to facilitate their growth in the role. We also encourage self-learning, by leveraging the Amazon learning platform.

What type of person is successful in this programme?

The professionals who will thrive in Pathways are open-minded individuals with strong analytical and people skills, and who enjoy embracing challenges – especially those who are passionate about operations. Geographical flexibility is also an advantage as Amazon is growing rapidly, and this creates many exciting opportunities worldwide!

What is the biggest challenge you have experienced at Amazon?

Shortly after joining, I was working on a project to design automated solutions for providing the network with a daily schedule of tote moves across our European buildings. Totes are containers we use to move items in our Fulfillment Centers and this project’s aim was to better enable inventory transfers.

The timelines were consistently tight and I had to learn my way around all related processes very quickly! I also needed to fully understand how to operate the data warehouse in order to design a scalable solution. The project was critical for the business and I was concerned that we would not be able to deliver expected results within the timelines. Luckily, I was surrounded by a supportive team and had a full Pathways Manager network to reach out to. The project was a success and resulted in massive savings for the company.

What is your most remarkable achievement at Amazon so far?

The most remarkable achievement is to see how much people in my team have grown since they joined Amazon. I had a temporary associate who was involved in a Kaizen project and who was later given an opportunity to be involved in its execution. With coaching and mentoring, this associate was able to become a team leader and subsequently, an Area Manager. She is currently successfully running one of the biggest departments in the building and I am confident that she will grow further. I have multiple examples like this: empowering people is what makes me really proud of my job.

If you could go back to your first day with Amazon, what advice would you give to yourself to be successful in the Pathways programme?

I would advise myself to be comfortable with ambiguity: confidently dealing with ambiguity is one of our core competencies. I would also leverage the Pathways Manager network even more, in order to push myself and take more smart risks on behalf of the business.