Amazon CFO kicks off 2017-18 Penn State Smeal Executive Insights series

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Smeal College of Business students, faculty, and staff filled the Business Building Atrium on Friday, Sept. 8, to hear perspectives on business and leadership from Amazon’s Brian Olsavsky in the first installment of this semester’s Executive Insights lecture series.

Olsavsky, chief financial officer and senior vice president, addressed a wide variety of topics in a moderated discussion with Charles H. Whiteman, John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal. Among the topics he addressed were:

Customer service

“I think the biggest excitement we draw on at Amazon is focusing on the customers and working back from that. By doing that, it gives you a solid base to invent on behalf of customers.”

Leadership

“We have 14 leadership principles that we use to guide our business. We use them when we hire people. We interview with these leadership principles in mind. When we evaluate each other, or ourselves, in any point in time we’ll talk in terms of these leadership principles.

“Most of these are about attitudes, more than skills. Career success is really a function of the skills you have, the attitude you bring to work and then the opportunities you run into in the workplace. These aren’t just posters we put on a wall. These are things we use day to day.”

Amazon’s Day 1 Mentality

“It’s a healthy approach. It means that, no matter what we’re doing, it’s Day 1 in our journey. It means, more practically, we’re willing to have errors, have non-perfect offerings in the short run and we’re willing to experiment and to test and to grow.”

Diversity and inclusion

“No. 1, we know diverse teams make better decisions, if you look at the research. They may not be the most harmonious, but that’s not what you want when you are making decisions. It’s actually tougher to have diverse teams. There’s less group think and you come out with better decision making. Our customer base is very diverse and we have to ultimately match our customer base to give them the best goods and services.”

Amazon’s decision to open a second headquarters

“We’re looking for a second headquarters, equal in scope and size to Seattle. For us, it’s about adding talent, technical talent, especially. We have to be other places than Seattle. This is about planning for the future and getting additional sources of talent.”

Now in its ninth year, Executive Insights is designed to complement the Smeal educational experience by bringing high-profile leaders to the college to connect with students, faculty, and administrators. Past Executive Insights guests include dozens of leaders from organizations such as Archer Daniels Midland, BASF SE, Boeing, Credit Suisse Group, Dell, Deloitte, Dick’s Sporting Goods, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Kohl’s, KPMG, Macy’s, the National Retail Federation, Nestlé, Oracle, Procter & Gamble, PwC, Samsung, Siemens, Verizon, Tumi Holdings, Inc., and Urban Outfitters.

The entire Executive Insights session with Olsavsky is available on Smeal’s Facebook page. A collection of past Executive Insights speaker videos is available online.

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Last Updated September 08, 2017