The MBA class of 2020 began their journey at Ross in August 2018. Although they had just experienced an intense and informative first week of orientation, Sanger challenged them with a bold assignment: the 2018 Business + Impact Challenge. Alongside Amazon, we asked the incoming MBAs to navigate ambiguity, lead change, and inspire others. Their prompt: How might Amazon leverage its products, services, and technology to support post-disaster recovery and build resilience in local communities and small businesses?

On the final day of the challenge, after hours of brainstorming and research, representatives from each section pitched solutions to an audience of their peers, Amazonians, and a panel of judges. In the end, judges were won over by Section 2’s idea of Amazon Phoenix, a program enabling small business owners affected by a natural disaster to rebuild by providing financial capital, access to Amazon customer channels, and critical supplies to replenish inventory.

On February 22, 2019, we celebrated Section 2’s victory by touring an Amazon fulfillment center in Livonia, Michigan. Here’s what Blake Bogart, MBA ‘20, had to say about his experience:

“The facility visit to the DET1 fulfillment center was a great opportunity to learn more about Amazon’s operational excellence. As a Tauber student, it was great to see many of the lean principles we have learned about in practice. The visit helped illuminate how Amazon could use its mastery of inventory management to deliver the necessary provisions rapidly and efficiently to support disaster relief.”

It’s been eight months since the challenge. To see how students’ ideas have impacted Amazon and its natural disaster relief efforts, we followed up with Trang-Thien Tran, Principal Product Manager on the Disaster Relief by Amazon team.

MBAs at Amazon fulfillment center
What was the most impactful takeaway from the 2018 Business + Impact Challenge for you and the disaster relief team?
At Amazon, the disaster relief team partners with other Amazon teams to develop new ideas alongside us. With the 2018 Business + Impact Challenge, we were able to partner with Michigan Ross to think of amazing, big ideas for disaster relief.

The deliverables produced helped us look around corners for the small business customers who are impacted by natural disasters. One thing that stood out to us was the teams’ research of Amazon products and services to create solutions that cut across the business lines for value-added services rather than one stand-alone product to offer. The winning team had a multi-product approach from capital to inventory. This bundled approach would not only address the needs of the customers, but would also deepen the relationships with them. As our team continues to build our tool kit used for disaster relief support, we will revisit these value-added services.   

What skills or traits did Ross MBA students have that will help them in the future?
The challenge we presented to the Ross MBA teams was hard. Not only were they tasked to write a mock press release with potential frequently asked questions, but also to prepare a pitch for judges and external facing marketing materials to share with others. Those are all major deliverables, which can take months to produce, but the students were challenged to learn these new approaches and deliver within 24 hours. Not only did they have to deliver results during a compressed time period, but they also had to do it with 25 other people whom they just met!

Team cooperation and collaboration were necessary to produce results. I was pleasantly surprised by the Ross students’ ability to deliver results and help each other thrive in a stressful situation. These skills are extremely important in the working environment because no one can do their jobs and projects without others’ support. Building strong working relationships instills trust and cooperation during good and difficult circumstances. These are skills that Ross students should take with them and continue to develop during and after business school.

What advice would you give MBAs heading into their second year?
As the students enter the second year of school, pressure will be on them—whether externally or internally—to get a full-time job. Pressure may also be on them to take certain types of jobs because those are the “prestigious” jobs or the “money-making” jobs. My advice is to reflect on what motivates you and what moments you enjoyed or loved what you were doing. Learn from those moments and pursue careers in them. This will lead to happier, more satisfied lives by doing something that is personally motivating.

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We were so impressed with students’ innovative solutions to the 2018 challenge, and look forward to our 2019 challenges!

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