Robin Mendelson is one of the few people who actually became what she wanted to be when she grew up, more or less. She always wanted to own a bookstore, and now she runs the Amazon Media department, which includes books, movies, music, software, and video games.
“It was my childhood dream to open a bookstore, so leading Amazon’s online bookstore is quite literally a dream come true — on a much larger scale,” she said.
Mendelson has been with Amazon for 18 years in a variety of roles ranging from finance to logistics to technology.
“I’ve launched new businesses and even spent three years in our Paris office introducing consumables and baby categories to our French customers,” she said.
We caught up with Mendelson for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: Seattle, WA.
Computer types: HP EliteBook at work; Mac at home.
Mobile devices: iPhone 7.
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “For a person who works in a tech company, I am pretty low tech but here are some of the apps I use the most: Audible, GoodReads, Prime Now, Merlin Bird id, OpenTable, Amazon’s shopping app, and the Kids Media App from Common Sense Media.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “In my 18 years at Amazon, I’ve worked in more than a dozen offices. I often joke that as long as there is a power outlet, I can work anywhere. Amazon’s Seattle offices are open-concept seating which I really enjoy. The layout of the space and my standing desk make it easy for me to interact with the team in real-time. Our office is full of media — with a space for the video games team to play and stay current, turntables, and vinyl in offices, and a library of books that Amazonians can visit and help themselves to. When our son visits the office with me, he used to go straight for the library – now he’s much more interested in the video game room!”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Admittedly, for me, it’s hard to separate the two. I’m deeply invested in Amazon’s relentless focus on enhancing our customers’ experience and I’m fortunate to work on products and services that I’m passionate about. As a customer, I’m also eager to leverage Amazon’s services to enhance my life. So you can see where it gets a little complicated.
“I make no secret of priorities that always come before my work – parent-teacher conferences, evenings, vacations – and I expect my team to find a balance that works for them as well. In order for people to feel focused, energized, and creative they have to be able to refresh with relationships and experiences outside of the office.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “For business, I typically use LinkedIn to network and Twitter to get my news. Otherwise, I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and colleagues.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “11, a light week – I’ll be enjoying a few days out of the office with my family in the San Juan Islands.”
How do you run meetings? “It really depends on the purpose of the meeting. For a staff meeting, I gather priorities from key stakeholders to build the agenda and try to engage everyone in the room. The meetings I enjoy the most have a good balance of practical material and decision making, and space to explore ideas and discuss challenges. At Amazon, it’s also common to walk through a working backward plan for a new idea or business in a format called a press release and FAQs. We think about an idea by starting with the customer and what it would look like to announce a new product. From there we dive into what customers would ask. Only when we have a real line of sight into this do we start to build.
“My team also holds a quarterly all-hands meeting, where we share projects across the team, provide updates on our business performance, and recognize exceptional leadership. I take an inclusive approach, engaging team members to emcee or put together a theme or program for the day. A few years ago, we started recognizing individuals with peer-nominated awards – it’s a great way to celebrate exceptional efforts happening at all levels of the organization.”
Everyday work uniform? “We are casual at Amazon so I dress very comfortably. I took a few fashion tips from my French colleagues, and now I wear a lot of black, usually with boots, and a colorful scarf. I’ve accumulated quite a scarf collection!”
How do you make time for family? “I make sure to prioritize family time by scheduling vacations, subscribing to series and events like the ballet and the symphony, and planning weekends at our cabin in the San Juan Islands. I am deliberate on weekends when we’re at home to not over plan so we have time to do more casual activities as a family – even for a walk in Volunteer Park or a few hours to plant something in the garden. During the week, I try to maximize connecting with family where I can – I often catch up with my sisters by phone during my morning commute and check in with my mother on the way home (hands-free, of course), and we FaceTime with our family in France on the weekend.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Books are home for me, and fiction is my go-to. I read mysteries and thrillers when I’m stressed — Louise Penny, Thomas Perry and Daniel Silva. When I’m relaxed, I tend to read more to let my mind wander to new places. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was one I recently enjoyed. Hiking and sharing a meal with friends are great ways to unwind as well. We love to cook anything from cookbooks by Ina Garten or Yotam Ottolenghi, and the new Dorie Greenspan cookbook, Dorie’s Cookies, is beautiful and delicious.”
What are you listening to? “On Audible, I’m listening to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is up next. If I’m working at night, I find myself streaming The Who or Bach Goldberg Variations on my Echo Dot, or Aimee Mann or Carbon Leaf. And my son and I are listening to the ‘Hamilton’ soundtrack together.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “The New York Times, especially on Wednesday (food articles) and Sunday (books), WSJ, Omnivoracious (the Amazon Book Review), GeekWire, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, Publishers Weekly, Author Earnings, Food 52, The New Yorker.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Exit West: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid, Nevertheless by Alec Baldwin, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I’m often both during the week and neither on the weekend.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Engaging with others, looking at data, or being outside. I feel privileged to work with a team of such creative and innovative people. A long walk or hike opens my mind in an unconstrained way.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I especially admire leaders who have the ability to envision a world so far beyond today’s reality and who are relentless in taking steps to deliver it. Of course, Jeff Bezos is one of those leaders.
“At Amazon, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many fantastic authors and performers through Amazon Fishbowls — an internal speaker and performance series that connects Amazon employees with authors, artists, and filmmakers. Recently I was inspired by Alec Baldwin who spoke at a Fishbowl in Seattle about his memoir, Nevertheless. He is balancing his new commitment to writing with his demanding acting career, his arts foundation, his growing family with three young children, love of classical music and comedy. I was so impressed by his dedication to his priorities while also pursuing new passions.
“I also met Danielle Steele recently and found so much to admire. She publishes more than four books a year and continues to prioritize her family. She was lovely and generous with her time.
“Another leader I admire is Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve learned so much from her through her writing and speaking engagements and I’m really looking forward to reading her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.”