Tag: Amazon

ICE Week 2017

For Mike Bynum, MBA ’19, the final celebration of ICE Week on Wednesday afternoon was both exhilarating and bittersweet.

After a grueling, five-day marathon of case descriptions, business research, preparation, and case presentations, he was happy to have a plate of hot food and a drink in his hand, surrounded by his classmates and the three members of his team—his partners for the entire semester.

“But it’s also a little nostalgic,” he said. “I’m realizing that I’m working with the team one last time. We had gotten into a rhythm.”

Bynum and more than 140 other first-year MBA students participated in ICE Week—short for “Integrated Case Experience”—from Friday through Wednesday, a 17-year tradition at Olin. After final exams and before departing for winter break, the students put their heads together, solving real-world problems for real Olin business partners.

The "best of show" winning team from ICE Week.
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Disrupting partner businesses

This year, Monsanto and Amazon paired for one deceptively simple, yet agonizingly complex case: Disrupt Monsanto’s business using Amazon’s natural language processing and artificial intelligence in marketing and customer strategy. Presented on Friday, students worked through the weekend toward their Monday presentations.

Monday afternoon, MasterCard came to the plate with a second challenge: Propose products or services that would effectively increase the demand for digital money and open opportunities for largely cash-based customers to participate in the financial system. With only Tuesday to prepare, students gave their presentations Wednesday morning and early afternoon.

Patrick Moreton, Olin’s senior associate dean for graduate programs, said the five-day competition is a chance for students to step outside the somewhat artificial realm of the cases they’ve seen in the classroom.

“Classroom cases are more retrospective. They’re an effective teaching technique, but they’re not the real world,” Moreton said. “We bring in the outside companies so the stakes are higher. This is a chance for students to work on the kind of problems you might get at work.”

For the students, those “high stakes” include knowing they’re essentially auditioning for some top employers looking to fill summer internships. The partners get to see Olin students in action, gauging their analytical and presentation skills. Moreton urged the more than two dozen judges to consider a simple question as they evaluated the presentations: Could I give it to my boss without changing it? That might be a perfect presentation.

Corporate benefits

For the partners, it doesn’t hurt that they get 30 sets of eyes offering new perspectives and fresh insights on their business. Even if one presentation doesn’t jump out, the aggregated effect of multiple team presentations could uncover new ways of considering their problems.

For Monsanto, student ideas to “disrupt” its business included:

  • A software platform to aggregate farmers’ field data, Monsanto proprietary data, and third-party information to customize recommendations for farmers as they planned their annual seed and supply orders.
  • A user-generated social networking platform for farmers to share best practices using artificial intelligence to integrate ideas with outside data and elevate the most promising suggestions.
  • Another software platform using field and laboratory data to transition Monsanto away from corn and soy products—which largely support crops that provide feed for animals—to a business that moves toward more vegetable-based diets and lower protein diets.

Student suggestions for MasterCard included a plan to test an expansion of point-of-sale devices at retail locations in Mexico to expand the capacity of card-based cashless commerce and a proposal to reduce or eliminate digital payment fees to incentivize merchants to encourage them.


ICE Week organizers and the corporate partners raved about the high quality proposals they saw from students in both cases. They selected a runner-up and a winning team for both cases and a “best of show” team for the overall competition. Winners get a chance to make their presentations at Monsanto and MasterCard in front of senior leadership, as well as tour the companies and learn more about the business.

Monsanto case winners also got an Amazon Echo.

Monsanto-Amazon Case: Kavon Javaherian, Neha Lankadasu, Kyle Lee, Ana Mihaila (runners-up); Camden Civello, YoonJin Hwang, Takashi Otsuka, Meredith Owen (winners).

MasterCard Case: Camden Civello, YoonJin Hwang, Takashi Otsuka, Meredith Owen (runners-up); Greg Brown, Maitrayee Goswami, Junho Kim, David Paquette, Ariel Washington (winners).

Overall Winners: Greg Brown, Maitrayee Goswami, Junho Kim, David Paquette, Ariel Washington.

Amazon calls it “our biggest hiring event of the year.” Olin professor Panos Kouvelis calls it retailers’ worst nightmare.

It is Amazon Jobs Day when the e-commerce giant says it will hire 50,000 people for positions at 12 of its fulfillment centers on August 2. Job candidates will be given tours of the centers to “watch our jobs in action, and see the magic behind the Amazon smile,” according the company’s website.

Panos Kouvelis

Kouvelis, Director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation and Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management at Olin Business School predicts Amazon’s hiring spree could have reverberations all the way to customers’ front doors.

What effect will adding 50,000 new workers in one day have on Amazon’s supply chain and distribution system?

For Amazon, the focus is on the customer, and “speed” of service is everything. Speed at the level Amazon imagines it (two days, next day, in two hours), heavily depends on fulfillment center capacities. With more employees, their system should have the potential to become more responsive, in other words, shortening the time between when a customer clicks on an order to delivery. This is the logistical capability other companies find difficult to match, and it will get even harder for them to respond as Amazon scales up its operations. Amazon is a nightmare of a competitor for many retailers, and with these 50,000 new hires in one day, it just got worse for them.

Will many of these fulfillment center jobs be replaced by robots and drones in the near future?

I have visited a massive Amazon fulfillment center outside Seattle. It is reasonably automated, but there is still a need for workers. For now, human labor is the “flexibility” element for Amazon. People are needed to handle the more complex operations such as final packaging. At fulfillment centers that function on a smaller scale and exist to provide proximity to certain markets, automation is inflexible and costly.  In those cases, human labor might be more flexible to adjust to demand conditions and more cost effective.

Amazon continues to invest in automation (robotics, three D printing, drones etc.), and has already replaced quite a lot of labor. Over time, Amazon will definitely move to higher degrees of automation.

Could Amazon turn abandoned shopping malls into distribution centers?

Distribution centers need a lot of space at low cost. If the empty shopping malls come at very low rental rates, why not?  Shopping malls near town centers might be expensive for storing a lot of inventory, but you could have temporary shipment consolidation or pickup locations close to cities in areas that used to be thriving shopping malls before the boom in online shopping drove bricks and mortar retailers out of business.

Amazon hosted 20 MBAs from Olin for a peek into the tech giant’s logistical prowess on September 23. It was a pleasant morning as the spirited MBAs from Olin departed from the Knight Center for a 270-mile journey to SDF8, one of Amazon’s largest fulfillment centers, located in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The tour was organized by Olin’s Supply Chain and Operations Association (SCOPA), in collaboration with the Weston Career Center and Amazon recruiting.

As the bus rolled into Amazon’s parking lot, the driver exclaimed, “This is the biggest building I have ever seen!” The facility was an imposing structure, five stories high and occupying an area equivalent to 21 football fields. The excitement in the bus was palpable as we prepared to witness the magic that happens after people across the globe hit the “Place your order” button on the Amazon website.

An Amazon fulfillment center.

An Amazon fulfillment center.

Our group was welcomed with a one-hour guided tour of the fulfillment center. The tour consisted of a walk-through of the different functional areas within the fulfillment center, while the site was limbering up for the upcoming peak holiday season.

It was an amazing site to witness how millions of orders were being tracked so efficiently with man and machine working like clockwork to deliver the best value to the customer.

The highlight of the trip was the information session led by the Director of the facility, Mr. Sunender Mann. The students got an excellent perspective from the site’s leadership team on what it’s like to lead and inspire people every day and while serving millions of customers across the globe.

The students were thoroughly impressed with what they saw. They couldn’t hold back their excitement when they were asked by other students back at Olin about the experience.

Students walked away eager to come back to Amazon as employees and add value to lives of millions of customers using the skills they will acquire through the MBA program at Olin.

What students were saying:

“Visiting Amazon’s fulfillment center was an amazing experience. I had expected the facility to be modern and futuristic but once we got there, the scale of SDF8 really blew me away. On our guided tour we got a first-hand view of the automated delivery system that speeds packages around the building’s packaging machines that allows Amazon to efficiently handle the huge volume of goods that pass through the building every day. Meeting SDF8’s friendly management team also provided us with key insights into the working of the fulfillment center.”

– Rohan Kamalia, MBA ’18

“I was impressed by how well-coordinated such a massive facility could be–everything from low-tech to ultra-high-tech solutions were used to maximize the efficiency of the process. The managers with whom we met were very generous with their time, sharing with us their thoughts about being leaders of such a large and well-oiled operation. My biggest takeaway from the meeting was how they stressed building strong relationships with their teams as a necessity for achieving such high performance.”

– Jeffrey Lantz, MBA ’18

“It was truly a great opportunity to learn about Amazon. Through the Q&A session I came to know more about the Pathways program. Furthermore, its individual inventory management process was so impressive. I worked on several supply chain management projects for global manufacturers, but I haven’t seen such an innovative SCM process as the one Amazon has.”

Jinsoo Chang, MBA ’18

Guest Blogger: Abhishek Sahni, MBA ’17