Ayesha Harper is a director of Private Brands at Amazon. We chat with her about her path at Amazon, career mobility, and geek out a little over cool customer experiences.
Q: How did you start your Amazon career?
A: I’ve had five different roles in my nine years here. Amazon very much values movement in your career. Because of the number of businesses here, you are able to see the in different phases of growth or completely different cycles. For example, a group like the toys category has a heavy holiday season where Amazon Business might not.
In my career path at Amazon within the retail organization, I’ve worked in fashion, media, and now private brands. Each of those businesses have different challenges and growth trajectories.
When I joined, I had no idea how diversified Amazon would become or all the opportunities that would be available. Nine years after I started, we are developing award-winning original content, have a huge business with Amazon Web Services, and we’re making first-party devices such as Kindle and Echo. Amazon just continues to get more and more diversified.
Q: That movement between teams or organizations like AWS and Kindle is available at all levels. You don’t have to be a business leader to experience that kind of variety at Amazon.
A. Right. There’s quite a bit of movement within an organization. What we are doing in the retail organization and across the company is building great businesses and general management leaders. Our feeling is that folks who are able to experience and lead different organizations will be better employees and business managers.
Q: You were a category leader in media before. Can you explain that role?
A: A category is a set of similar products. So, Books would be an example. The category leader is responsible for growing the business for that category. They are focused on identifying the right customer experience for the set of products they offer.
Portrait of Ayesha Harper, director and general manager of AmazonBasics.
Q: Is it similar to being a business owner?
A: It is. The category leader oversees multiple functional areas. They are the general manager of their business – they make supply chain decisions, they lead their team in vendor and brand negotiations, and much more. The people that report to them have a range of different responsibilities as well.
Q: So, developing products is different than managing a category. How is your current role different from previous ones?
A: My focus is on brands, and my team is responsible for developing products in those brands. The set of activities you do when you are bringing products to market is different than managing an entire retail “store.” On my team, we think more about individual items and less about the entire experience across the category.
Q: What kind of roles exist in your organization?
A: We have in-stock manager roles responsible for supply chain; determining how to bring new products into the Amazon fulfillment network and create a great delivery experience for customers. And we have marketing managers who bring products and brands to life and manage the related customer experience on Amazon.com.
Aside from the roles themselves, another interesting thing about our work is that AmazonBasics today spans more than forty different product categories. We make things like batteries and HDMI cables. We’re also making kitchen products like steak knives and dinner plates. So being on the team, you get to see a wide variety of product categories.
Q: Can you share what you generally look for when you hire someone?
A: A lot of it depends on the specific role, but in general we look for people who like to solve problems, are willing to roll up their sleeves, are adept at using and analyzing data, and are comfortable making decisions.
Another quality we look for is the ability to think differently and embrace change. At Amazon, we typically do things a bit differently than other retailers. Part of that is because we are an innovative eCommerce company, so we don’t have some of the requirements a more traditional brick-and-mortar retailer would. If someone has some experience being an agent of change, that could lend itself well at Amazon.
Q: If someone was interviewing with your team, or another organization at Amazon, should they be able to speak to those experiences in their past positions in addition to demonstrating some of our Leadership Principles?
A: Yes, we really do look at how well job candidates match with our Leadership Principles. Those principles are about how you think and operate in a work environment. For people who really connect with those principles, there are definitely opportunities here, even if they are coming from environments that maybe haven’t experienced the kind of innovation and growth that Amazon has.
In fact, our growth on this team is a big part of why people join. It provides opportunities for leadership and personal development. We are continuing to expand into new product categories, so there is lots of opportunity for learning. It’s really exciting and rewarding to be part of something new.
People also join our team because they love products. They have a chance to become very familiar with a product category and make an impact on the customer experience through products, which is a little different than how you would make an impact in many other organizations at Amazon.
Q: Speaking of Leadership Principles, is there one that particularly resonates with your team or that you tend to talk about the most?
A: I think when you’re developing products and brands for Amazon, customer obsession has to be at the heart of the business. Another is that we insist on high standards because we want to ensure customers have a great experience with our products and brands.
One thing about the Leadership Principles is that, aside from the fact that they are at the heart of how Amazon works and have remained consistent, they have only gotten to be more powerful because thousands more employees are all working together with that kind of mindset.
Q: Is there anything that you see Amazon doing outside of your team that you think is particularly cool?
A: The Echo and what the future could be for voice shopping continues to interest me as a consumer. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of that customer experience.
Q: It brings to mind a saying we hear a lot around here: “it’s still Day 1.”
A: It’s true. At Amazon, you can join an organization that’s quickly growing, is open to new ideas, allows you to have an impact, and where each individual on the team can make decisions. It’s a really rewarding experience.