Cynthia Williams wants to use Amazon’s massive reach to help small entrepreneurs — particularly women-run businesses.
“Women have always worked hard. Entrepreneurship gives them the opportunity to work hard and to control their destiny, and their families’ destiny,” Williams said. “And yet, hard work in and of itself isn’t always enough. You need help — access to capital, access to information and access to customers.”
That’s where Amazon comes in, she believes. Williams is VP of Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Business and Operations. FBA is part of Amazon Marketplace, through which third-party sellers can market their goods on the Amazon website. Businesses using FBA also pay Amazon to fill and ship their products from Amazon fulfillment centers.
Williams has been at Amazon for 11 years. She employs some Southern charm from her native North Carolina to get reticent team members to open up, and loves a good debate. She’s a music fan with diverse tastes and picks a theme song to accompany big projects, which might someday include her ideas for programs to assist women CEOs in developing countries.
“I can only begin to imagine all the ways Amazon Marketplace and FBA could evolve to support them further with business training, marketing advice and product development,” she said. “We could help amplify the voice of female entrepreneurs on a world stage.”
We caught up with Willams for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: Seattle
Computer types: A Dell at work, a MacBook at home
Mobile devices: iPhone 6
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “Amazon and Facebook are the apps I use the most.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “I would describe my space as commemorative, creative and open. As the leader of Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) business I like to fill the wall behind my desk with products, customer reviews and news stories that celebrate the success of our small and medium businesses. Since my walls are whiteboards and glass, during meetings in my office, colleagues can illustrate their ideas with colored markers. ‘White boarding’ to explain an idea is a very Amazonian thing to do and I love that I can sit in my office, surrounded by passionate scribbles and diagrams. The final element is more cultural than physical: I encourage people to drop by with quick updates, questions or even to let me know that they disagree with how I’m thinking about something. I love a good intellectual debate!”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “For me, I’m most successful and fulfilled when I get my workout done in the morning so there are no excuses. It also gives me energy to attack the day. It’s also extremely important to me to surround myself with a fantastic group of people to keep me centered and focused on what matters — both at work and home.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I use Facebook the most. It’s a great way for me to stay in touch with my family who live in North Carolina. I even post stories about successful business owners who use FBA.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “38. Everyone is back from the holidays so it’s a little on the heavy side.”
How do you run meetings? “Meetings need a purpose, an agenda and well-rounded participation. I encourage attendees to share their perspective and seek different points of view. Understanding both sides of any debate is important to me as a leader. For colleagues who I know tend to be quieter, or need more space to speak up, I make a point of bringing them into the conversation gently. One of my team members always smiles at an expression we use where I grew up in North Carolina: “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.” She says I charm even the shyest voices into contributing — something I’m extremely proud of as a Southerner.”
Everyday work uniform? “Jeans, a blouse or sweater, and most importantly, a fabulous pair of shoes or boots. I have a thing about shoes!”
How do you make time for family? “I prioritize family time on weekends and vacations. During vacations, I completely check out of work. My significant other and I seek out live music, cook together, take time to discuss what’s going on in our world and plan for the future. During the week, I’m very dedicated to my job and my team. I also try to make time to connect with friends during the work week, whether it’s happy hour or a coffee break, so my significant other jokes that he gets about an hour of my time a day during the week.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Walks by the water, reading a great book, listening to music, cooking, catching up with friends.”
What are you listening to? “I listen to music based on my mood and what I’m doing. Recently, I’ve been listening to Willie K, a Hawaiian guitar virtuoso who is classically trained. He ranges from opera to rock and blues to traditional Hawaiian music. I saw him play with Mick Fleetwood last year and his guitar work on ‘Purple Rain’ was wicked! A few years ago, I needed to write a document that informed a multi-billion dollar decision; Adele’s album ’21’ was the soundtrack for that paper. Historically, I set a theme song for big projects.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Business Insider, Fast Company, GeekWire of course!
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? ‘The Gift of Imperfection’ by Brené Brown and ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson.
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “Early riser — I’m in bed by 9:30 or 10 p.m. and up at 5 a.m.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “First thing in the morning (typically in the shower), walking beside the water or sitting on a beach.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Leonardo da Vinci. I was inspired at an early age by his habit of learning from failed experiments and applying the lessons to the next attempt. It’s a bit serendipitous that this is something Amazon values as well. If I had a time machine, I’d use it to bring him to the present so he could see how his inventions have evolved.”