How 6 Foster MBA Students Helped Amazon with Sustainability

Foster Students

Foster MBA students. From left to right: Rachel Hester, Mia Wang, Larissa Sponchiado, Seth Bergeson, Melissa Young, Scott Thornbury

About the Authors . . .

Seth Bergeson and Rachel Hester are Full-Time MBA students at Foster. They were winter quarter teammates when they worked on an Applied Strategy project creating recommendations for integrating sustainability into Amazon’s Business platform.

Why were you drawn to this project?

Rachel: We were given a list of clients and projects with impressive local and national companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Dolby, and Paccar, among others. I was drawn to our project (Sustainability on the Amazon Business Platform) because using business to positively impact the environment is what prompted me to return to school for my MBA. Working on a sustainability project with a company that has the global reach and capacity to make an impact immediately was exactly the kind of experience I was hoping to have coming to Foster.

Seth: Growing up in Seattle, I had seen Amazon grow at an impressive pace from a small local company into a global disruptor. I wanted to help Amazon deepen its commitment to sustainability by learning how to enable sustainability credentials on Amazon Marketplace.

Tell us about your team during winter quarter.

Rachel: I was thrilled to work on such a diverse team and learn from our shared experiences. Between the six of us, we brought perspectives from the U.S. military, international supply chain and operations, oil and gas, risk and fraud, non-profit/government, and marketing/media, and geographically represented the Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, China and Brazil. This diversity enhanced the perspectives we brought to the project and to our client.

Seth: Our diverse winter quarter team had to bond quite quickly because during the first week of winter quarter (before we even met with our Amazon client) we were thrown into a case competition at school. We spent a busy 48 hours preparing our recommendation for a client and presenting it to our class. The case competition was a great way to learn about one another’s work styles and strengths, and was very helpful in our Applied Strategy project for Amazon.

What was the project process like?

Rachel: After an initial kick-off dinner with our client, we began scoping the project. We were given the tools we needed through the Applied Strategy class, which featured PwC consultants teaching best practices and in-the-field lessons each week. We quickly chose roles based on our strengths – I was responsible for leading the presentation/white paper deliverable, and we had roles for project manager, client communication, and research. Once we mutually decided on the scope, we got to work.

Seth: We spent the first few weeks of the project assessing the strategic verticals. Our client connected us with his colleagues on various teams throughout Amazon, including their sustainability team. Our conversations with these teams helped us understand Amazon’s B2B platform and its sustainability work. Rachel and I loved the opportunity to talk with sustainability team about how Amazon conceptualized sustainability and their goals for the future. We met with our client every other week to update him on our research and talk about next steps. He gave us a lot of freedom to shape our own project and provided key feedback and advice to help us sharpen our focus.

Rachel: The project lasted about 9 weeks and, in the last two weeks before our presentation, our client helped us edit and refine our white paper. Before our final presentation, we went through the paper line by line and helped us make sure that every word supported our recommendation.

What was your experience presenting your recommendations to the client?

Rachel: Amazon asked us to prepare a white paper for them. We learned that Amazon does not use PowerPoint decks and instead employs white papers–memos of no more than 6 pages with additional appendices that succinctly outline the topic and recommendations.

Seth: On the day of our presentation, our client invited his manager and colleagues to a conference room. After a brief welcome, everyone at the meeting spent 15 minutes reading our white paper and then we launched into a series of questions and answers. Although we were a bit nervous about presenting, we enjoyed the opportunity to talk about our research in the area.

Rachel: A high point was a discussion between our client’s manager’s and one of his colleagues in which the manager said that this was definitely a space in which Amazon should invest.

What was your most significant lesson learned during the project?

Seth: Our project at Amazon was very broad and dealt with several strategic verticals that we needed to assess. In 9 short weeks, we had to assess the verticals, decide on one vertical to focus on, and then develop a go-forward plan.

Rachel: One of the biggest challenges in our project was dealing with a lack of data. Beginning the project, we knew that Amazon was very data-driven, but we struggled to identify data for all our strategic verticals and had to carefully develop a recommendation with the limited data we had to satisfy a highly data-driven client. The experience of crafting solid, data-backed recommendations when the data is not readily available was a great lesson for me. (And a great way to get familiar with the many business/industry databases and resources we have at Foster.)

How has this project shaped your MBA experience?

Seth: Our team became extremely close over the 10-week-long winter quarter. While we were also taking three other core courses and doing much of the coursework together, working on our Applied Strategy project for Amazon drew us the closest together. We recently had a reunion lunch on a sunny spring day and reminisced about our project. We’re still in touch with our client, and one of our teammates was just emailing with him yesterday.

Our client told me to get in touch with him anytime to talk about career question I have–or just to chat about any other issue in life.

Rachel: Working with this team and with our client has been one of my fondest memories at Foster. It was a rare moment when a group of people were able to come together, learn a new subject area, use our strengths to complement each other, and deliver value to our client that would be used to make business decisions for one of the world’s most influential companies. I would gladly work with my teammates again in any school or professional setting, and hope to someday have the opportunity to do just that. And yes, the reunion lunches are an added bonus.