After 1,601 Day 1s, 4 roles, 9 managers, 7,284 customer engagements, traveling 6 countries (pre-COVID), it is time to move to the next adventure. Today, serves as my last day at Amazon.
It all started with a conversation with my business school professor who researches strong culture organizations and wrote the HBR case study on the topic of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Growing up in an environment where some family businesses lasted generations while others failed in just a few years, I was endlessly curious about what makes some organizations outlive and outlast all of us. I approached professor with a simple yet challenging question, “how do leaders build organizations that last generations?”. His reply was clear and prescriptive, “Mayur, you need to experience a strong culture organization first hand.” That is exactly what I did for the last 4 years 4 months 18 days at Amazon in the cloud division, Amazon Web Services. Cloud has democratized the speed and cost of experimentation in such a massive way that a student in a university dorm room can build the next big thing at the cost of buying a cup of coffee. A decade and half ago, such experimentation and innovation was limited to the largest institutions who had the deep pockets to invest millions in research & development. This Amazon experience has been an accelerated roller coaster learning experience. Culture has been top of mind for leaders however the challenge remains how do you teach culture and how do you preserve culture as you scale the business with each new hire. Like you cannot learn how to ride a bike by reading a book, you just have to take the leap of faith, get on the bike, and start paddling/balancing/watching out your path few feet at a time.
Starting on the solution architect leadership team, I got to experience what customer obsession and earn trust truly mean. Day 1 of joining, hiring manager transitioned to a different role and it was a testament to Amazon’s culture of encouraging internal mobility. Such internal mobility is made feasible by the same language most Amazonians speak, the leadership principles. This peculiar culture is lived each day and in each situation by leveraging the leadership principles as your directional compass.
From contributing in building AWS’s compete muscle to influencing product direction for a few AWS database and analytics services and building a new focus area, no two days at Amazon were the same for me. From narrative reviews to narrative writing, from collecting swag to collecting phone tool icons, from preparation for hiring to facilitating debriefs as Bar Raiser In Training (BRIT), from volunteering to address homelessness in Seattle to being a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ambassador, each experience has been 100% peculiar. It has been fantastic working together with some of the brightest minds in the industry and will miss our collaboration.
We humans are visual beings so here are three lessons learned over these 4 years 4 months 18 days at Amazon. Though there are 16 leadership principles at Amazon, sharing just 3 that resonated with me the most during these years.
#1 Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. #CustomerObsession
Sharing a short story to articulate what it means to demonstrate customer obsession. During the first week of joining AWS, I met with one of our customers. The objective of this customer meeting was to help the customer reduce their spend with AWS by 20% via optimizing their costs. That is precisely what we accomplished during those 2 hours. Coming from enterprise software with strong sales cultures, it was a bit surprising to see the AWS account team working so hard to help the customer spend less. Fast forward 6 months, customer had freed up so much operational capital from such cost optimizations that the customer ended up doubling down on AWS with game changing innovations, resulting in the overall AWS spend growing by more than 50% from where it initially started. What I could learn from this experience is your success in business is tied to the hip with customer’s success over the long term.
Every company in the world has to keep transforming the customer experience and their business to remain competitive. The main enablers for transformation remain agility and innovation. Many organizations talk about customer centricity but there are too many distractions that influence a leader such as short term quarter to quarter thinking, competitive forces, and ever-changing macroeconomic environment. As a result, some organizations tend to prioritize shareholders and stock price over delighting customers for the long term. Here are some of the fearless leaders (ignore me in the picture) who demonstrate the courage to put customers at the center of every decision.
#2 Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. #Ownership
After a year at AWS, I started to identify some gaps in our offerings based on what customers were repeatedly asking us for. These were specific challenges that our customers deeply cared about. Amazon encourages internal mobility to enable you to work on customer challenges that you are most passionate about. Such high ownership culture empowered me to raise my hand, take ownership, and change roles internally to acquire a new skillset. This new role was global in nature and allowed me to be much more closer to the voice of the customers. Such culture gave me the opportunity to build scaling mechanisms, influence product, and increase our odds of winning. Overall, the best part is I never heard the words, “that’s not my job” at Amazon.
#3 Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. #LearnAndBeCurious
At the end of year 3, it felt like I was learning a lot in an accelerated manner however leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. Thanks to my manager (also my mentor), she challenged me to think big and step outside my comfort zone. It was going from being a subject matter expert in one domain to becoming a beginner all over again in a completely new knowledge domain. This was the best thing that happened, being challenged to adopt a beginners mindset. The most rewarding part of this experience was starting from a completely blank whiteboard and working backwards from customers to define what success looked like. Such awesome autonomy also comes packaged with excruciatingly painful high standards that must be met as a single threaded owner. The stickers on the laptop are not just artwork, they demonstrate your hunger for learning and curiosity. If you see Amazonians at the airport or coffee shop working on their laptops full of stickers, you can count on them to be a curious bunch.
Thanks to customers, partners, team members, global Amazon community, professional acquaintances for your trust, respect, and love. Please accept my warmest regards and best wishes going forward.
I expect this is just a small pause in our acquaintance, as paths always have a way of crossing. So to that end, I’ll just say, see you later!
Stay tuned for the next chapter!
All the best,