I went to a local state college, Fresno State, where I double majored in biology and oenology, the study of winemaking. After graduating, I ended up sticking around in the Fresno area working for large facilities that were producing retail-store wine brands. I climbed up the ranks pretty quickly from apprentice to winemaker and eventually the director of cellar operations, where I was essentially in charge of the crew that was doing the work that the winemakers were putting out. I had a lot of fun with it, but it was certainly more tactical than mentally engaging in its nature.
You know, it was a private company in a very rural area. It was a great opportunity, but I just didn’t see myself doing that long term. It wasn’t a natural fit for me; I wanted to be doing something a lot more intellectually challenging, so I decided to go back to school and pursue an MBA.
How did you decide on MBA@UNC?
I explored MBA programs and ultimately decided that I needed to do it online. At the time, I had a 1- and 3-year-old, and my wife was also working full time. We definitely weren’t in a position where we could uproot our family for me to do a full-time brick-and-mortar MBA.
I decided to do it online, but more importantly, when I decided to go online I only applied to the two top-20 MBA programs that had an online program: UNC and Indiana. I got into both, and I went with Indiana initially. I didn’t come from a business school background and found myself really struggling with economics and accounting. I wasn’t enjoying it; I was definitely having buyer’s remorse because I was realizing that no one was making any effort at all to reach out to me, check in on me and see how I’m doing or anything. If this is going to be an online program, you want to get as much interaction as you can get.
In the meantime, the MBA@UNC program director had come back from paternity leave and had learned that I respectfully declined my offer from UNC, and so he was reaching out trying to get ahold of me. After talking to him again, I ended up dropping out of Indiana and coming on with UNC, and definitely never regretted it.
What did you find different about MBA@UNC?
Aside from the personal support and guidance, I think it was definitely the learning environment that really struck me. The wine companies that I was working for were pretty scrappy companies, so sitting in a classroom with people that came from much more professional backgrounds, and having the chance to collaborate with them so closely, was extremely exciting for me.
How did you find your career with Amazon?
There was a company info session webinar that was being done through Career & Leadership featuring UNC alumni. I think it was three or four UNC alumni that were on the panel, and by signing up, my resume was automatically sent off to Amazon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the webinar—something came up at work—but I was able to watch the recording of it. Nonetheless, my resume went off, and a couple of months later I received an e-mail offering me the chance to interview.
I am now in what is called the Retail Leadership Development Program (RLD) here at Amazon. Essentially, the program is a three-year rotational program that consists of two 18-month job assignments designed to encourage ownership of your own career. I’m coming in as the senior vendor manager within the toys department. When I hit that 18-month mark, I have to set up and transition into another department in another role, so I’m really excited having been in an MBA program where I get so many unique perspectives on different industries.
How did UNC Kenan-Flagler help you advance within Amazon?
I know that in a lot of MBA programs, when you choose an area of concentration, it absorbs the entire curriculum. So, a lot of my counterparts here are extremely finance-based or extremely marketing-based and didn’t take the breadth of courses that I was able to take at UNC.
I was thrown into this role—when we accepted our jobs, nobody in the program knew what their function within Amazon was going to be. We were just going into a retail leadership development program, and we knew that there are these different positions or functions within it. With that said, I didn’t lose any sleep worrying that I was going to be thrown into marketing or thrown into a vendor management role. I kind of felt that I had everything in my arsenal, so to speak, to be able to handle whatever function I get thrown into.
Also, UNC really excels in leadership development. The high-level training I got in strategic and management principles combined with the personalized leadership development guidance really helped me feel confident no matter what role I find myself in.