Things I Love About Amazon

Anupama Denise

Anupama Denise

Anupama Denise (Puma), is a Certified Safety Professional with ten years of experience driving EHS improvements across a variety of industries. She believes in safety cultures driven by data and cultivated by relationships.

Table of Contents

Amazon has been on the “Dirty Dozen” list of employers for years. In 2017, there was a pretty bad run of PIT incidents, killing several employees in the northeast. If you had asked me back then, there was no way I'd ever join the company. But this September, I will have been employed by Amazon for one year.

What changed my mind? In this blog, I summarize why I joined Amazon, a few lessons learned in my first year, and my initial impression of working for this e-commerce giant.

What Changed? Why Did I join Amazon?

In 2018, I went to ASSP's inaugural Women in Safety Summit. There, I met a woman named Marla. She was brilliant, commanding respect and attention in every room she walked in. She is a woman of color, and I had so few role models who looked like me. She carried herself with confidence I'd thought only white people were allowed. After I spent a few minutes with her, I remember thinking, “This is who I want to be when I grow up.” Imagine my shock when she continued to share spaces with me at ASSP events, and I quickly came to learn that she worked for Amazon, who had been the Platinum Sponsor for several of my favorite ASSP events in 2019. Cue professional stalking (aka ‘networking'). I requested her connection on LinkedIn and learned that she has a Ph.D. from Purdue(dream of mine), a Masters in Organizational Behavior, and earned her CSP. She had been a Director of EHS at several companies that I admired from afar (Alcoa, Pepsi, and Amazon).

Alright, color me intrigued.

If a woman like Marla could work and be successful at Amazon, perhaps I had been too quick to discount the e-commerce giant. That year, I saw Amazon change its tune in regards to safety and take its well-known vision (“Earth's most customer-centric company”), and add a spin that spoke to my core: “Earth's most safety-centric company.” This public announcement of the organization's commitment to long-term safety impressed me. I started doing more research.

That next conference, I made sure to stop by the Amazon table. By that, I mean that I casually walked by several times throughout the 4-day conference, scouting to see if she was there. Then, I saw her. I quickly found that the woman was busy. Knowing what I do now, I would not be surprised if she had an executive assistant organizing her calendar. But I remember finally making eye contact with her. She was at the Amazon booth, on her cell phone, and saw me. She said, “Hold on,” to whomever she was talking on the phone with. She said, “I remember you. You impressed me.” She tapped her head as if to mime that my brain was impressive. (I think my celebrity crush was full-on at this point.) She grabbed a colleague, pointed to me, and said, “Talk to her, she's good.” She waved at me, turned around, and continued her phone conversation.

That's how it started. In September of the same year, I'd earned a position as the Site EHS Manager of my building, and my first Day 1 began.

Things I love about Amazon

The People

The caliber of people that Amazon employs is beyond anywhere I've worked. Amazonians are smart, passionate human beings, and we are making incredibly innovative solutions and solving big problems every day. In general, we are driven and brilliant, and all have an innate desire to succeed. If you are a reflection of the five people you are closest to, then I couldn't be prouder of who I am becoming and the company I'm keeping.

The Leadership Principles

I've worked at places with company culture, somewhere it's more important than others and somewhere “the talk” is more important than “the walk”. I cannot remember a single day where the Leadership Principles are not mentioned. A Tenant of our region is literally, “To Live and Breathe” the leadership principles. We categorize our accomplishments by Leadership Principles. I evaluate my team on their adherence to them, and my manager evaluates my performance on my adherence to them. I love this. They are the backbone of everything we do. (Check out my favorite Leadership Principles)

The Pace

We work at a pace that I didn't believe was possible. Amazon believes in “Fail Big, Fail Hard, Fail Fast,” and I love it. The question is, what is your risk tolerance? Amazon can answer that question, and there are non-negotiables (life, limb, customer satisfaction) – the rest is up for debate. *When your solution addresses 70% of the problem, deploy it.* Jeff Bezos believes in this approach, and it has infiltrated leadership from his level through the rest of the company. It has undoubtedly lead to its fair share of frustrating mistakes, but what is impressive to me is the pace at which the company identifies those, implements fixes, and moves forward with a solution that still addresses the majority of the original problem. The result is that despite periods of frustration with a half-baked solution, in the end, everyone is better than if nothing had been done in the first place. I have worked for teams where the paralyzing fear of “what if this, what if that” keeps new ideas from being implemented, where philosophical *Hamlets* stop progress, and *I've hated it*. This is not the case at Amazon.

The Diversity of People and Thought

I won't spend much on this one because it's quite personal, and there are plenty of studies showing the benefits of having rich diversity in a company. Suffice it to say that I've never worked somewhere with variety across so many different identities. It makes every single day even more beautiful, and I'm thankful. *I am not the only woman of color on my team, on the leadership team, and I've never experienced anything like it. *

Data-Based Decisions

You hear it all the time, and it is no lie: Amazon is a data-driven company. I identify as a relationship-oriented, data-driven EHS professional, so I'm not sure how much better a match could be. Data characterizes problems; data determines which solutions to implement; data determines success. It is amazing.

Professional Development

The last reason I joined Amazon is this: when I looked over my resume and my career goals, I realized I have highly technical experience in safety, environmental health, and even some dabbling in industrial hygiene. The most notable gap in my resume was my experience *supervising and managing others, building teams whose results I am ultimately responsible*.

That is the experience that this position had provided me. It is not challenging from a technical standpoint. I'm not working with engineers or facilities teams to engineer hazards out – though that might be an exciting thing to migrate back to at some point. I love that I'm now learning how to manage a team. I've never been one to delegate easily, and now I have no choice. It's a safe environment to understand this because our most significant injuries come from ergonomic incidents – we are not at risk of having someone fall in a vat of acidic wastewater or asphyxiate in CO2. At most, someone may tweak their back from lifting a box incorrectly. When you're not worried about life or limb, it's easier to learn how to be a people manager. And fun fact, that is the most rewarding thing I've ever done.

In Review

2020 has not been the easiest year to join Earth's most customer-centric company. Covid-19 posed challenges for many, and we were no exception. It has not made my first year as smooth as I would have hoped. But hot damn, am I thankful that I'm employed. I have a team that makes me smile every single day. I have the best bosses I've ever had, and I get to work for Earth's most safety-centric company. I'm not blind to our weaknesses; I know Amazon has many valid criticisms, but damn am I excited to be working for a company that doesn't shy from those faults and experiments quickly to address them. I'm so thankful to be on this fast-moving train, and I'm excited to lead the industry on data-drive safety initiatives.

“Without an operation, there would be no work. Without a safe operation, there is no operating. It's that simple.”

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