Executive Q&A: Laura Orvidas, Amazon Head of Consumer Electronics

Laura Orvidas, a woman executive likely to join the top group at Amazon, reflects on tech, service and fulfillment.

October 9, 2017By John Levesque

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ALWAYS LEARNING: Laura Orvidas likes to be outside. I mountain bike, I run, I ski, she says. And I just started taking sailing lessons.

Amazon doesnt have many women in its senior management ranks. Among those likely to crack the top group one day is Laura Orvidas, whose tenure at Amazon features a remarkable breadth of experience, from financial analysis to product management to operations on the tech side at Amazon Web Services.

Orvidas grew up in Riverside, Illinois an idyllic, Olmsted-designed suburb just west of Chicago. She majored in biology at Illinois Wesleyan, worked in financial consulting with The Parthenon Group in Boston for four years and joined Amazon in 1999. For the past three years, she has been VP of consumer electronics, responsible for one of Amazons largest hard-lines categories and about 500 employees.

One of the things I love about this company, Orvidas says, is that you can take many different paths and kind of define your own career. You dont get pigeonholed.

FAMILY: My dad was a draftsman and then a tool-and-die maker. He was excellent at math. My mother did a bunch of administrative assistant jobs for different companies in Chicago. She spent the last portion of her career at Ace Hardware in the buying department. We always had a lot of cleaning-supply samples around the house.

AMAZON: I joined as a financial analyst. I got to go deep on our financials, which gave me a solid foundation to understand the drivers of the business.

RESEARCH: A lot of the work we do here is about experimentation. Its like the science field just a lot more adaptable and flexible. We learn from our mistakes and try the next thing.

ELEVATOR PITCH: I run the consumer electronics organization, encompassing six categories: cameras, office supplies, PCs, wireless, TV and audio, and musical instruments. I work with all the vendor partners, sorting their selection, making sure we have great value and convenience for our customers. I also run our private-brand business, Amazon Basics. We have a bunch of everyday items at great prices. We do everything from puppy pads to towels to charging cables for your phone. I also run our retail leadership development program, which works on training to develop leaders within Amazon.

JEFF BEZOS: Hes amazing. Hes got a great laugh. One time, I almost ran him over in the stairwell. I was late for a meeting and I was tearing up and he was tearing down, but with my catlike reflexes I avoided him. Otherwise (laughing), we might not be having this interview.

STRATEGY: We want to be Earths most customer-centered company. We focus on selection, value and convenience. On the consumer electronics side, we are true to that strategy. I want to be provide customers the most amazing experience, so this becomes the place where they buy all their consumer electronics and they dont go to the Verizon store to buy their charger when they can buy one from my site at a better value.

WORKPLACE: I would not work at a company that looked like that [unflattering New York Times] article. I have found it a fantastic place to be. It is challenging. Were doing things that have never been done before. And that requires a lot of prioritization and focus. I have had to be purposeful about how I do my work, that I work smart and work on the right things. Ive never finished a to-do list here. And thats OK because Im always trying to get the most important things done and I have a lot of ownership and Im able to make those decisions.

SUPPORT: Through my career here, Ive added two small children to my responsibility set and Ive had to carve out time to make sure Im doing the important things for them. So I drop off my son at school, I come in late to work, I will leave early to go to a swimming lesson from time to time, and I do those things that I think are important to fulfill me as a parent. Ive had the support here to be able to do that. I feel that Ive had an amazing ride here and have learned an incredible number of things about leadership, about business, about scaling a company.

THE NEXT BIG THING: Theres always this convergence and dispersion of technology, and thats been one of the exciting things being part of consumer electronics. I was part of home [goods] before. We sold furniture and Im pretty sure in 10 years well still be selling couches, but in the CE space, it is less certain what well be selling 10 years from now because things are evolving. Definitely, connectivity will be a theme. Another will be machine learning.

TECHNOLOGY: Ten years ago, we would have laughed that people would buy things on their mobile phones. And today its perfectly normal. There are going to be more devices that come out where well be buying things through voice, maybe well buy things just by thinking about them. Its hard to know. From a shopping perspective, were always looking at where is this technology going and where can it enable a better shopping experience for consumers. And we want to be in that space, experimenting and learning.

LESSONS LEARNED: One is to focus on the fundamentals and be disciplined about them. Establishing an operating cadence is important to delivering results. The second thing Ive learned is making sure you put leaders in the right place and allow them to lead. The third is that true customer obsession is a north star. When making business decisions, going back to the customer and thinking what the customer may want or need helps make sure that youre more right than wrong. And if youre wrong, you fix it fast.

THE ECONOMY: I try not to worry about things I cant control. The things I can control are the inputs of the business and making sure I have a great customer experience. If there is a recession, I will be prepared for it because I have the right foundational pieces in place.

COMPETITION: Our focus has been on what the customer wants and what the customer needs. By focusing on that, we think we can leapfrog what other people are doing. There are companies that are doing interesting things on behalf of customers, so looking outside these walls provides inspiration, but the lens through which I look at them is are they doing something interesting to service customers?

TAKE 5: Get to Know Laura Orvidas

DREAM VACATION: Im 100 percent Lithuanian and I want to do a bike trip across the Baltics.

DINING OUT: I like Nishino for sushi. I like The Harvest Vine as well.

NOW READING: A lot of I Can Read and Olivia books. Multiple times.

PETS: Weve got four chickens and two dogs named Gretel and Renny. We recently added a horse.

GUILTY PLEASURES: Probably chocolate chip cookies and wine.