Delivering on High Expectations at Amazon

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Peter Faricy, MBA ’95, leads the online retail giant’s successful Marketplace division, with the help of recruits from Ross.

BY BOB NEEDHAM
PHOTO BY STUART ISSET

Amazon is a company in demand — by consumers, the media, and job seekers. Long known as a place of growth and innovation, the company also makes news for its high standards in hiring.

So it's no surprise that a Ross alum, Peter Faricy, MBA '95, plays a key role at Amazon, as vice president of Amazon Marketplace. And it also follows that those high standards drive the high number of placements of other Ross grads: Amazon's hiring of Ross students is increasing, with nearly 50 getting either full-time jobs or internships at Amazon last year alone.

Before arriving at Amazon, Faricy worked at Borders Group, Ford Motor Co., and McKinsey & Co. He joined Amazon in 2006, initially as vice president of music and movies.

"I couldn't help but notice the company's focus on customers and innovation," he says of what drew him there. Amazon was already aggressively seeking out new opportunities and making things easier for its users. "All of that led to a company that was growing very, very fast."

The Amazon Experience

Amazon appealed to him because he could apply the problem-solving and analytic skills he learned at Ross and honed earlier in his career. "The problems you get to solve are very fun problems," he says, reflecting on the company's blistering growth. (Last year's revenue was 22 percent higher than 2012's — and that's pretty typical for Amazon.)

But Amazon's not just big business. It's also small business — lots of them. Forty percent of the items sold on Amazon last year — more than a billion units — weren't actually sold by Amazon. They were sold in Amazon Marketplace, an online collection of third-party sellers hosted by the company.

In 2009 Faricy became vice president for Marketplace, where he oversees the operations of 2 million sellers of various sizes. Marketplace has grown from a great place to find that out-ofprint book or CD to a source for everything from pet supplies to jewelry. Recent additions include sports memorabilia, wine, and even artworks. Geographically, Marketplace recently expanded into China, India, Italy, and Spain.

"It's really an unprecedented business opportunity," Faricy says. And it all makes sense in the overall company culture: "Our obsession is, how do we innovate on behalf of customers?" — with the much-discussed drone delivery concept just one high-profile example.

Lessons from Ross

Faricy speaks enthusiastically of his Ross education and the preparation it afforded. "I feel blessed to have received my MBA degree from Ross," he says. "Ross was really a pioneer in action-based learning."

He vividly recalls the lessons of his MAP project, led by faculty sponsor Jane Dutton. The team worked with Target to study retention of hourly associates. Going in, they expected pay would be the top concern. "Much to our surprise," he says, "the most important factor was how well you onboard new employees."

Faricy's dedication to the Ross philosophy led him to accept an invitation to join the Ross School Advisory Board, where he hopes to help keep the school on its successful course. He encourages fellow alums to engage with the school as much as possible, promising a rewarding experience.

When visiting Ann Arbor as an alum, Faricy always tries to connect with Tom Kinnear. "I learned a great deal from Professor Kinnear. Not just about marketing strategy, but about business leadership more broadly," he says — particularly the value of high standards for performance. "We learned more than we thought."

Those high standards come into play in hiring at Amazon, where many Ross grads make an impact. Hires from Ross have all the expected traits of a top-tier MBA, Faricy says — smarts, analytic ability, problem-solving skills. But, he adds, what sets Ross apart are the "softer" skills like work ethic, humility, listening, and putting theory into practice: "We really find that Ross graduates are some of the best holistic business leaders."
 

Peter Faricy's Three Tips for Being "Customer Obsessed"

  1. Work Backwards: At Amazon, we begin every new program with a “working backwards” document that focuses on our customers and needs we are trying to address on their behalf. We research, gather data, and have rigorous discussions on how to best serve customers. We are obsessed with our customers and their needs.
     
  2. Measure Continuously: We constantly measure the experience and journey of customers. We measure numerous major and minor data points, including things like the number of milliseconds it takes for a page to load, because we hear from customers that speed is important. Our customers have relentlessly high standards, so we must continually raise our own bar to deliver high quality products, services and processes to meet and exceed their expectations. We stay connected to details and audit frequently."
     
  3. Walk Your Talk: Personally experiencing your business as the customer is critical. We encourage every associate at Amazon to register, launch, and actively sell on Amazon. There is no better process to truly understand and relate to the feedback of a customer than to have taken the same journey and engage the products and services similar to customers. Be open-minded and willing to examine areas that can be improved.