A few years ago, Devin Banerjee, Editor at Large, Business & Finance at LinkedIn, sat down with Amazon’s CEO- Andy Jassy to learn about this career journey.
Here’s an excerpt of that interview:
Banerjee: Andy, let’s roll back the clock to your own career path in your 20s. Did you have a master plan? Or did you figure it out as you went along?
Andy Jassy: I had the opposite of a master plan and I think as I share some details, you’ll see that it was not a well-thought-out plan.
– When I was thinking about my first job, I had two experiences in college that shaped what I was initially thinking. I worked on the business side of my school newspaper, running the advertising group. That was a really interesting initial business experience, and we started a new national college magazine called Class Act, and that was a very fun, stimulating entrepreneurial experience.
– Then I worked for three summers in between years of college at FOX TV in New York, helping start a morning show, which still exists, called “Good Day New York” and I loved it. I love the rush of TV. That experience largely made me want to pursue television, and I’m also a very passionate sports fan, so I decided I was going to be a sportscaster. I created my resume reel and I sent it to 100 markets, and I only got two opportunities. At the end of the day, I just couldn’t pull the trigger on living in the more remote places, that I was going to have to live (being from New York) and so I took a job at ABC Sports as a production assistant working on their college football scoreboard show.
I really liked that experience; Game Day was fascinating. But the rest of the week was not as interesting to me at 22 and at the end of the day, I didn’t have enough passion and tunnel vision for that opportunity to pay the dues that you have to pay to get the responsible jobs…and all of of my peers did.
– So I went back to a company that was referred to me by one of the people I worked with at the school newspaper. It was a great product management opportunity called MBI, which is a direct marketer of collectibles and continuity series. It was a really great general managerial experience that felt very entrepreneurial because, you get imagine to start a lot of small businesses.
– I did that for a bit and then I I left that and started my own business, and that was a great experience for a couple of years. And, you know, those businesses did fine, but they never were going to be big businesses. And when I was in college because I decided I was going to be a sportscaster. I never really seriously contemplated any other professions or took enough classes to allow myself to be qualified for some of those other opportunities. So I went back to graduate school for business.
– And you know, when I was leaving graduate school, I was probably going to start my own business again. I was managing a band at the time in Boston, and I was thinking about starting a music management and label idea or agency and I was also considering some other tech jobs and I had not even contemplated Amazon. I came back from an interview in the Bay Area on a red eye. I got in at like 6:30 in the morning and I was going to a concert in New York City at noon. On my answering machine there was a message from a woman who saw my resume, and said that she thought that maybe I could be a fit. She had one cancellation and was I willing to do an interview at 9am?
I said okay, I’ll try it and you know, and I really liked the person I interviewed with and I came to Seattle and love the people I met, the mission and how customer-focused the organization seems so I decided to join Amazon.
– When I was coming, they wouldn’t tell me what my what group I was gonna be in, what my job title was going to be, what I was going to be working on, but for some reason it was very important that I start in May.
When I was at school we had this month in between graduation (with our last exam) and when you walk through graduation, which was really fun month; you hung out with your friends, play golf or do whatever you’re gonna do… so I didn’t do that.
I came to work here for a few weeks and I started the marketing team when it was just about eight people. And we split up all the jobs (all the jobs are too big for each of us), but we had to kind of each take a piece of it
I started working on customer retention which fit with my direct response background. I did that for a few weeks and then I was asked to work on what we call a SWAT team project to look at other categories. We should think about getting into before the brand (Amazon) cemented as a books only brand. So I looked at music which was really like writing a business school case and that was really interesting and I went back to marketing and built out our customer relationship marketing team, then I went back to music and ran product management and I was general manager of our music business for awhile.
I went back to marketing and co-ran marketing, so you can see this is not a well-thought-out master plan, it’s the opposite of a master plan. I did that for about a year.
– Then I got offered this incredible opportunity. unlike anything I’d done before, what they then call the executive shadow for Jeff Bezos. It was really like a chief of staff role. Where we spent all our time together, and even including in his 1:1s, then we would debrief each week on what we heard and what was important to follow up on and try to divide and conquer. for him it was a way to extend his bandwidth. For me, it was just an incredible opportunity to see a lot of parts of the business I didn’t get to see when I was in management jobs that were more functional.
– So I did that for about 18 months and coming out of that job. I left to kind of explore an opportunity that we thought might be interested in, (which was) building a technology infrastructure platform that might allow our internal consumer business to move more quickly, but we figured if it would work for our internal team (which is highly technical), it might be something interesting for third parties as well.
So that became really the vision document that we wrote that became AWS and I managed that for the last 18 years before doing this job.
– So that is kind of the opposite of a master plan, but I think there are some of the common pieces. My wife gave me a really good piece of advice (career advice). When I was leaving business school, and I was agonizing over what to do and she said, “You know, it’s probably not going to be the last job you ever do”.
And well, it turned out that I’ve been in Amazon for those 24 years since, I’ve done a lot of different things.
I think not worrying about trying new things, and trying to go with what your passions are, and what you could imagine being excited about. Then once you take those jobs, whatever they are and no matter how different they are from your background, fully committing and being all in have been common characteristics of the different experiences.