As an MBA Intern in Amazon’s Retail Leadership Development Program, Prerana Manvi (UNC Kenan-Flagler, ’17) knew of the challenges and opportunities that would come with working at one of the largest retailers in the world. Prior to and during her summer, Prerana made extensive efforts to learn as much as she could about Amazon and to build relationships with others, and during our interview she shared with us how those efforts helped her successfully navigate her summer internship.
MBASchooled: What did you do last summer for your MBA internship?
Prerana: I was a Retail Leadership Development Program intern at Amazon HQ, Seattle. More specifically, I was part of Amazon retail’s Consumer Electronics team, and worked on the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ program.
MBASchooled: Was there anything you did leading up to your internship to prepare for it?
Prerana: From talking to second years and alumni prior to my internship, I learnt that projects at Amazon tend to be ambiguous in their scope, and that any given project could be approached in multiple ways. With that in mind, I chose to focus on developing skills that could enable me to bring structure to a given problem and prioritize possible solutions. All of my consulting case prep greatly helped me in this regard. Secondly, I read about the company and its work-style, and watched interviews of senior leaders to get a sense of the culture. I felt it was important to not be biased or influenced by stories in the media, and to evaluate my fit with the company for myself. This exercise was very helpful, as I worked in a startup before and so, was able to identify potential comfort zones within Amazon’s entrepreneurial culture.
MBASchooled: What was the biggest surprise that came up during your internship?
Prerana: My first impression of Amazon was as I’d expected it to be – they were professional and thorough in their communication, and organized trainings and speaker sessions focused around Amazon’s famed leadership principles. As I navigated the rest of my internship, however, I was extremely surprised by the extent to which these principles are ingrained in every Amazonian. Throughout the company, across all individuals and teams, there is a deep sense of accountability towards the 14 principles. I was amazed by the references to these principles even in the most trivial conversations – in the cafe or the elevator – which made me realize the reason behind the company’s consistent success, despite its vast number of employees coming from very diverse backgrounds and experiences. Another surprise to me, was how contrary the company’s culture actually was to some negative reports in the media. Amazon is filled with very bright and driven individuals; every interaction sparked new ideas and inspired me to make a difference.
MBASchooled: What was a challenge that you faced, and what did you do to overcome it?
Prerana: As mentioned earlier, I was able to sense alignment with Amazon’s entrepreneurial culture early on, as I am a very driven individual. While I effectively took charge of my problem and structured an approach to solving it, I was mildly taken aback by the roadblocks I faced in implementing my plan – especially in situations that required me to push some employees for their time and involvement. Having realized that it was hurting my implementation schedule, I opened up to my Manager and expressed my hesitations. I then realized I was facing a challenge in breaking the mould and adapting to the American workplace, having only ever lived and worked in India. I also initiated coffee chats with my mentor and buddy (both of whom are assigned by Amazon), and sought feedback from team members to gain further perspective. I am thankful for all the advice and support at that stage, as I learnt to effectively balance my work relationships and project deliverables there on.
MBASchooled: During your internship, who were the people that were most helpful to you?
Prerana: My internship could not have been half as enriching and successful if not for my Manager. Despite being extremely busy as a Category Leader, he carved out time for regular, productive meetings every week, each time challenging me to think beyond just the project and pushing me to envision the kind of professional legacy I’d want to create. Members of my team were very welcoming, and gladly helped me out with tips and company jargon. Amazon also designates a ‘mentor’ and a ‘buddy’ to every intern, both of whom helped me with challenges of a different kind – those that I needn’t necessarily bother my Manager with. I also benefited from very consistent, solid support from UNC alumni at Amazon – they proactively invited me to discuss any issues with them, and acted as great sounding boards whenever needed!
MBASchooled: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Prerana: That’s surprisingly a question I was also asked during my final presentation! My answer largely remains the same to this day. An Amazon internship is mainly comprised of two aspects – problem solving, and fitting in with the culture. There is no one right way in which a problem can be solved, and so, there is always a different way to approach a project. I strongly believe that one of Amazon’s biggest assets is its employees and their ideas. And for that reason, I would have liked to meet and interact with many more teams and individuals, in order to have conceived more nuanced (or possibly far more radical) solutions stemming from their ideas and expertise.
MBASchooled: Going into the summer, did you have any goals for your internship? If so, how did you feel about how you did in achieving them?
Prerana: My goal for the summer, apart from securing a full-time offer, was to evaluate the company for the scope it provides for opportunity and growth, and to make a significant contribution to the organization in the time I had. I was thrilled for succeeding in my goal of securing the full-time offer, and also for understanding the company enough to be convinced of the opportunities it presents. On the second count, I do believe that I managed to play a role, although minor, towards the scaling of the program I worked on. I am excited by the expansion of the program over the past year, and hope that I will be able to enhance my impact and presence in the organization in the years to come.