What do happy hour, a fascinating Q and A with a senior Amazon director and a sushi making class have to do with working at Amazon? A lot, if you ask Reilly Fisher and Anna Townsend. In fact, besides juggling their busy daily schedules, in 2015 the two London-based Amazon employees launched the UK edition of Connect@Amazon, a programme which now involves a huge network of Amazonians in a variety of professional and social events – and they love every minute of it. “We couldn’t ever have imagined how quickly the programme would grow and how popular it would become” says Reilly.
We want Amazon to be the best place to work in the world and we believe Connect@Amazon can play a part in this.
Reilly was one of the founding members of Connect@Amazon in Seattle, where the programme first launched in 2014. The idea was to encourage Amazonians to share professional knowledge, develop their skills and get to meet colleagues through a mixture of professional and social activities; a combination that quickly proved successful. Arriving in the UK the following year, Reilly wasted no time in looking for support to get the network started. At that time, Anna was leading the social committee for the department they were both working in: “When Reilly told me about the initiative I knew straight away I wanted to be involved. We soon realised we worked really well as a team.”
Anna continues: “We wanted to start something that was not only educational and could help people further their careers, but that could also give them a chance to relax.” The pair’s idea received encouragement and funding from senior managers in London: “Everybody was on board straight away,” remembers Reilly. “Amazon has a very proactive culture which rewards people who use their initiative. You could tell there was a real desire in the business to bring people together and to help them have fun while at work.”
Starting at the top
The inaugural event, a Q and A session with some of Amazon UK’s leadership team, didn’t get off to a perfect start. “A few days before the session a tube strike was called, paralysing London’s transport network,” Reilly explains. The strike meant Christopher North, Amazon’s UK Country Manager at the time, made up a panel of one, beating the travel problems by cycling into the office. “Chris wasn’t fazed at all. He was very open and gave some fantastic insights on how to progress your career,” says Anna. Despite the transport problems 150 Amazonians still attended, with even more watching online thanks to the company’s internal broadcasting service. “We received very positive feedback after the event: at that point we knew Connect would be a hit in the UK, too.”
Since the first Q and A, Reilly and Anna have diversified the range of activities offered by Connect@Amazon with speed-networking, wine-tasting and even dodgeball, much to the delight of attendees like Charlotte Woffindin: “I never know what the next invite will be about, which is great!” A major development was inviting external speakers to come and share their wisdom and experience with attendees. The highlight was Cherie Blair CBE QC, who visited Amazon’s London Head Office for a talk on what it means to be a responsible global corporate citizen. “Just to be in the same room as someone who has achieved as much as her gave everyone a real lift,” says Reilly.
Keeping the momentum going
Despite the success Connect@Amazon has achieved in London, Reilly and Anna are not content to rest on their laurels. The programme has now a board with 18 employees responsible for organising weekly events. “It is rewarding to hear from your colleagues about how the programme has helped equip them with new skills, contacts and confidence that will be useful in their careers,” Anna explains, “and I love to see people leaving these events as friends, not just colleagues anymore.”
“It’s all about giving people an opportunity to step out of their core role and think bigger,” Reilly reflects. “It gives you a broader sense of what your purpose is. We want Amazon to be the best place to work in the world and we believe Connect@Amazon can play a part in this.”