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Homepage / Fast track to senior leadership – from Cranfield MBA to Amazon manager

Fast track to senior leadership – from Cranfield MBA to Amazon manager


Daniel Moelders at Amazon

We catch up with Cranfield MBA alumnus Daniel Moelders, to see how his role at Amazon has developed since joining the Pathways Programme, which is keenly supported by the Cranfield University Career Development Service.

What is your role at Amazon and what is your professional background?

I joined Amazon in September 2012 as a Pathways Area Manager in Germany. In 2013 I became Operations Manager, supporting different Amazon sites across the nation. During this tenure, I had the opportunity to redefine outbound flow management at Germany’s dedicated site for apparel and shoes. I achieved this through the improved processes I implemented, which were later adopted by all Amazon Fulfillment Centers throughout the country. In 2014 I graduated from the Pathways programme as a Senior Operations Manager. During this time I was part of the launch team of the two biggest Fulfillment Centers in Poland. As part of this, I trained Area, Operations and Senior Operations Managers in Indianapolis, USA. I am now a Senior Operations Manager at Amazon’s Fulfillment Center located in the San Francisco Bay area. I work in one of Amazon’s biggest and most innovative buildings in North America.

Before I joined Amazon, I worked for 14 years as an aviation officer of the German armed forces. I hold a Diploma in Business Administration from the University of the German Federal Armed Forces in Munich, a Master of Laws from the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz (Germany), and an MBA from Cranfield University – School of Management (UK).

How did the skills and knowledge acquired during your studies at Cranfield support you in your Pathways manager role?

The Cranfield MBA experience was excellent preparation for a job at Amazon. Its concept of learning in diverse, international teams and core focus on developing strong team leadership skills is highly effective. The most helpful modules were Leadership Development (it was called OBPPD during my MBA) and Operations and Strategic Management. Richard Kwiatkowski’s module was excellent for understanding who I am and how I am perceived by others. During the course of the module I developed a deeper knowledge of how to manage myself and then how to manage my team and my network. Bob Lillis did a fantastic job in explaining the core of operations and what is needed to be outstanding. I use his lessons to educate my team on a regular basis. The strategic management module of Richard Schoenberg and Cliff Bowman provides a great foundation to keep innovating – a core value of Amazon.

What support did you receive from the Cranfield Career Development Service during the recruitment process? What did you do to prepare for interviews with Amazon?

Cranfield’s career development service provided outstanding support. First of all, they helped me to present my experience and achievements in the best possible way. With its individual and customised consultation, the career service team fully understood which job I was looking for and they helped me to make it happen. It was Cranfield’s career development service who were the first to inform me that Amazon were interested in my profile. With an ad hoc session, they helped me become interview ready. For my preparation, I made sure that I fully understood Amazon’s leadership principles. Then all I had to do was prove that I was a strong fit for the company.

What do you like best about working at Amazon?

Amazon is a place where customer obsession is deeply ingrained in our DNA. This results in a culture that is fuelled by continuous innovation. Of course, a culture is nothing without its people. At Amazon you will find the best and the brightest. You will encounter senior managers who don’t act as gatekeepers, but enablers. You will discover technology put to use in contexts never imagined before. Drones and Robots are an obvious example of this. If you desire a job where you can positively impact upon the lives of millions of people, look no further.

Amazon is currently in the process of reshaping the understanding of logistics, retail and mobility. We are probably the best place to fail, learn, improve and grow, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work in such an exciting and challenging company.

What is the Amazon Pathways programme and what makes it unique?

In general, Amazon’s Pathways programme lasts for three years, depending on an individual’s developmental needs. I would describe it as a universal key that someone has put in your hands within this company. You can unlock many doors with this key, but it’s up to you to put in the work required to open them. Within Pathways, you are on a fast track to senior leadership. You will receive the opportunity to lead large teams and to drive cutting edge projects.

Furthermore, the Pathways programme consists of a broad array of alumni who hold the most senior positions within the company. It is a conversation starter and a fabulous opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. It also allows you to continue meeting, testing and surpassing your boundaries, which is highly rewarding on many levels.

Why did you decide to join the Pathways programme?

Operations is the core function of any business. Next to research and development and marketing, this is where all the resources are turned into specific products and services that make our customers choose us. I’ve worked in operations all my life, so I was looking for companies that had operations at their core. Amazon was my first choice.

It is an amazing company with an insane growth rate, on a global scale. Whether it takes you north or south, east or west, you will have the opportunity to work in some of the most innovative Amazon buildings around. During my time at Cranfield I was very focused on finding my place in a global company, the kind of place where I can pursue an international career. I’m happy to say the Amazon Pathways programme offers exactly that.

What does a typical day for a Pathways manager look like?

One of the key challenges for Amazon is growing the team bench of exceptional talent. That’s why the Pathways programme is very focused on leadership. You will start in an Area Manager role where you are expected to act as a front line leader. It is imperative to jump in and motivate your team. You will also have a mentor and line managers who help you to build up and maintain your momentum.

During the process of your development, it’s likely that not everything will go to plan. You will fail a couple of times in achieving certain goals, which we believe is an essential part of learning. When you are ready, you will progress into an Operations Manager role, making you a manager of managers. Throughout this development, you will rotate through key areas of Amazon’s operations. Once you master this stage, you will then be ready for your next step upwards. We will promote you to a Senior Operations Manager position, which marks your graduation from the Pathways programme.

What kind of mentorship does Amazon provide to support your success in the Pathways programme?

One of the key objectives of mentoring is to help you in your development and growth. At Amazon this comes in many different shapes and sizes, provided that you are open to it. In the beginning, you will learn a lot from our most vocal associates, you will learn from your team leads and your fellow Area Managers. Your line manager will provide you with guidance in your regular one-on-ones. Their line managers will have skip-level meetings with you. As a Pathways candidate, you will have regular sessions with your General Manager or Site Leader. We also recommend that you select a mentor – this can be a senior executive or a recent Pathways graduate. This is a great mechanism for you to discuss various leadership situations, or details that you are personally struggling with. Beyond that, we offer a broad selection of training, both on and offline.

What type of person is successful in this programme?

The best collection of character traits for any potential Amazonian is enshrined in Amazon’s leadership principles. These core values serve as the basis for our evaluation process and should guide every candidate’s self-evaluation. If I had to describe this in one word, I would say, grit! You will be most successful if you develop a steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. You need to have a pioneering spirit, curiosity and a certain level of audacity to try new things and to take risks. You should also reflect on your performance, on a regular basis. This will enable you to break with your old and less successful patterns and habits, as you develop new and better routines.

Be humble and listen more than you talk. Change your mind often and be willing to vocally admit your mistakes. Besides that, there are obvious elements that are mandatory in operations, such as strong analytical skills, a willingness to travel and to be flexible on many different levels. These are strong expectations, but in return working at Amazon is highly rewarding. As Dr. Seuss says, ‘if you want to catch beasts you don’t see every day, you have to go places quite out of the way’.

What is the biggest challenge you have experienced at Amazon?

In my last role I spent two years in Amazon’s oldest Fulfillment Center in Germany. I was the Senior Operations Change Manager and proxy to the Site Leader. When I started, my manager asked me to come up with a plan to make this building fit for the future.

Creating change which affects all people working in a Fulfillment Center is a huge challenge. We became successful by implementing a strong communication strategy, through which we presented all facts in a simple way. Today, this same building is implementing a robotics technology that will remove one of the most physically demanding tasks in a Fulfillment Center. This is a typical step we make at Amazon, in making spaces fit for future challenges.

What is your most remarkable achievement at Amazon so far?

My biggest challenge was also my biggest achievement so far. While I have worked on network wide projects, or on launching one of Amazon’s largest buildings in Europe, making change happen within a seasoned and experienced team was my biggest achievement. Now that I’m in San Francisco, I was contacted just yesterday by an associate from my previous facility in Germany. She wished me the best of luck in my new role and that she very much enjoyed working with me. Feedback like this is highly rewarding.

If you could go back to your first day with Amazon, what advice would you give yourself to be successful in the Pathways programme?

When I joined Amazon, after my first day, I put a post-it note on the inside of my apartment’s front door. Every morning when I left for work I looked at it. It said ‘start a grassroots movement!’ This is the advice I gave myself then and which I would still give myself now. Focus on the people that are doing the job. Don’t solely try to impress your boss but try to impress the associates that are on the front line every day. Focus on earning their trust and respect and the word will spread. Stay humble and keep yourself hands-on.

If you want to know more about the Amazon Pathways Programme, contact us on 

Written By: Daniel Moelders

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