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Amazon Exec Tells Graduate Students: Quality Lasts

Amazon-Exec-Onetto-Welcome-and-Awards--story-thumbnailEvery day, Marc Onetto goes to work with people who are more than a decade younger than he is, for a boss who is 17 years his junior, in a business driven by technology that didn’t exist when he graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1975.

Yet he succeeds for what he believes is a simple reason: the enduring quality of his education.

“What you are learning is not the latest fad or fashion,” Onetto told an audience of the Tepper School’s master’s and PhD candidates at a welcome and awards reception. “What you are learning [are] the fundamentals, and those will never change.”

Onetto (MSIA ’75) was a veteran of such heavy hitters as Exxon and General Electric before assuming his current role as senior vice president of worldwide operations at Amazon.com. During the past five years, Amazon has made 88 offers of full-time employment or internships to Tepper School students, and Onetto has financed a scholarship at the school.

“The fact that Amazon is hiring quite a large number of Tepper students is really because of the quality of the education that you are receiving here,” Onetto told his audience. “It has nothing to do, really, with me; it has to do with you.”

He recalled how he felt, when he first started his master’s program, as though he was already a month behind when he was in his first week of school. He offered sympathy to students and their significant others for the amount of work they must invest in the program. And he emphasized that it would, in the long run, pay off.

“We need people that base business decisions on data, on analysis. Not hints. Not on long dissertations. On math. And there is one school that knows how to train students to do that: It’s here,” he said. “What I learned here lasts. What I learned here is science, applied to business. And nowadays, that’s what we do at Amazon.”

Onetto stressed the importance of ethics and modesty in business, as well as a return to customer-focused thinking. He also poked gentle fun at the Tepper School’s reputation for a quantitative focus, urging students to embrace the persona.

“Other schools used to consider us and call us geeks … Guess what: You know the biggest geeks I know? It’s my boss, Jeff Bezos. And across the lake, we have another geek in Seattle. You perhaps have heard about him: Bill Gates,” Onetto said. “Nowadays, the geeks are in charge.”

When the laughter and applause subsided, he turned serious for a moment: “Let’s say, we know real value. We know the reason why things happen. We make business a science, not a guess. That’s a tremendous competitive advantage — remember that.”
 

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