THE BLOG

To Create A New Amazon Village, It Takes A Graduate Degree (Or Two, Or Three)

10/30/2017 18:56 EDT | Updated 10/31/2017 10:20 EDT

Amazon made headlines with its stupendous 1300% “earnings beat” for its most recent quarter that moved the company’s stock up over 10% in just one day! But before that, the folks from Seattle made perhaps even more consequential news by opening a competition to American cities for selection to host the second Amazon headquarters (“HQ2”), with the prospect of 50,000 new jobs coming to their immediate region and total investment of upwards of $5 billion, which has provoked a bidding war among metropolitan areas across the U.S. and even Canada.

Just what kind of expertise and insight is involved in this exciting business venture that could create a local enterprise supporting a family population the size of a Bay Area city like Santa Clara or Hayward?

Big Decisions, Big Data, Big Money

First, let’s consider the highest-level executive judgment involved, integrating all the various dimensions of Amazon’s long-term business strategy, growth plans, political interests, financial capacity, artificial intelligence involvement, staffing innovations, and logistical structures. Add to that current experiments with brick-and-mortar stores, drone and in-home package delivery, and wholesale pharmacy licenses, just to name a few.

Such integrative thinking calls for at least a first-rate Master’s of BusinessAdministration program taught by real-world veterans of both the commercial and academic arenas. An Executive MBA program might well be even more apt, especially if it involves hands-on experience with current business problems involving entrepreneurial challenges faced by world-scale as well as start-up enterprises.

Amazon’s leadership team for this exciting project would need to involve also expertise in Business Analytics to frame the entire scenario for planning an executing such a complex and multi-faceted undertaking, involving detailed assessment of multiple locations and logistical considerations, evaluating over 200 proposals from municipalities against a defined set of financial and other criteria that set Amazon’s objectives in advance with precision and confidence.

Financial considerations would, of course, be front-and-center for AMZN given a $5 billion project far more complex than building a multi-million-dollar sports stadium or even a Disney theme park. A master’s degree in Finance would be necessary to make the team tasked to determine exactly how this project would be funded and the rate-of-return benchmarks to be used not only in scoping the project physically and evaluating the various forms of incentives to AMZN offered by the competing communities to determine which are in the long-term interests of the company.

People Power

Speaking of employees, a master’s degree in Human Resources would be extremely helpful in defining the criteria for the type of community where Amazon would like to locate its large workforce, ranging from top-level world-class senior management to the newest entry-level trainee. The company was explicit in the kind of social environment that it wants for this large-scale operation. The community’s engagement in sophisticated workforce development programs such as those that exist in Silicon Valley – supported by many established businesses in the area as well as educational and public service institutions – would be a prime consideration for the company’s senior HR professionals. Similarly, Amazon’s commitment to racial and gender diversity in hiring and advancement would be relevant in evaluating which location is most likely to advance the company’s goals in this area.

At the employee level, the Financial Planning graduate degree would come in handy eventually for assessing the cost-of-living considerations relevant to the tens of thousands of employees that Amazon’s HR department will need to attract a retain with compensation and benefits structures appropriate to the location – and, in the same vein, assess the same metrics in choosing the location most likely to attract the best and brightest employees!

Getting It Done

The design, planning, construction and operation of the new headquarters is a massive undertaking that would require the most sophisticated Project Management knowledge and skills that a master’s degree in that field would provide. The project leadership would have to involved from well before the word “go” in designing criteria to evaluate the optimal-location considerations in terms of design talent, land availability and cost, municipal services quality and availability, labor capacity and supply access to materials, weather patterns, and all other issues relevant to the company’s timetable.

Once designed, of course, the project would have to be executed with attention to the desired timetable; contractor management; compliance with building codes and ordinances, labor standards, and clean-energy objectives and other resource-consumption considerations; local and regional transportation polices and interests; as well as community focus on traffic and public transport routing and planning — for necessary employee housing and related facilities like schools. In these connections, professionals with a master’s degree in PublicAdministration would be very helpful in negotiating the nuances of local political and governmental authorities as well as federal and state agencies with stakeholder interest in the headquarters project design and execution.

Nuts and Bolts

A master’s-level education in IT Management would also be critical in terms of specifications for the fiber-optic network and related technology infrastructure required to meet Amazon’s standards and assure seamless and efficient communications between HQ2 and HQ1 — as well as a vast array of warehouses, logistical network, customers, suppliers.

Finally, but crucially, linking all of these complex operations, a master’s degree level of expertise in Supply Chain Management would be essential to get the most value out of the new headquarters in terms of Amazon’s multifaceted connections to its suppliers, merchants and customers. By the time the new headquarters is fully operational, Amazon might well be operating its own cargo airline delivering food and pharmaceuticals as well as merchandise the company offers now.

What an exciting opportunity for anyone who could in the next year begin pursuing any range of graduate degrees that are so integral to the success of Amazon’s headquarters project. You might even call it a “prime” opportunity!

Terry Connelly is an economic expert and Dean Emeritus of the Edward S. Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University.