Emanuele Bianchi

Emanuele Bianchi joined Amazon in 2015, after eight years in consulting. The transition included moving from Italy to Luxembourg with his family. He spoke with Roland Vetten about this major turning point in his life.

Considering you worked at Bain for a year and a half and at McKinsey for seven years, what stands out since you’ve been working at Amazon in terms of culture or way of working?

"Amazon and the big strategy consulting firms share a similar data-driven, democratic approach to decision making, rather than relying on top-down pushes. Despite its size and scope, Amazon also retains a start-up feel, where continuous innovation and judgement are fostered. As a retailer, Amazon has an even stronger focus on delivering results compared to the consulting culture. I am encouraged here to take an idea, develop it and bring it to life, carrying full accountability for my choices. It’s exciting and one of the key reasons why leaving consulting has been worth."

How did your consulting background prepare you for Amazon?

"At McKinsey, I learned to flexibly adapt to new situations and ramp up quickly, breaking down a complicated problem into manageable sections, which turned out to be an extremely useful skill at Amazon. Everyone here frequently rotates into different roles and is faced with new, bigger challenges: as I joined, I helped develop Amazon’s first B2B-oriented Webstore. 18 months later, I had started to lead the launch of our Private Brands in consumer goods, from food and beauty products to health and laundry items across Europe. In both cases, I needed to make decisions on products, develop business models and work closely with many suppliers with completely different backgrounds and expectations."

You started off as Head of Vendor Management and began your new role as Category Leader Private Brands a few months ago. Why did you make this move?

"I wasn’t actively looking for a new role, if that's what you're asking. But the new role has a wider scope. As a Head of Vendor Management, I was responsible for onboarding vendors on our B2B sales channel, and deciding which products to sell. As a Category Leader, my responsibilities now span from product definition to supplier negotiations, supply chain set-up, marketing and sales, with a lot of interactions needed with internal and external stakeholders. When a senior director suggested this move to Private Brands, it sounded like a great opportunity for my career development indeed."

Could you tell us about a challenge you faced at Amazon?

"One of the main challenges of the B2B market is to overcome common wisdom and convince suppliers that Amazon - or even e-commerce in general - is a credible sales channel for them. As we had the introductory phone calls, many suppliers would think we dialed the wrong number, because they didn't know Amazon is active in the B2B space and couldn't figure out that their - sometimes sophisticated - products could be sold without physical account management. I also needed to convince them to adapt to new operating models. Just to mention an example: B2B toilet roll suppliers are used to selling their product in bulk on pallets. I had to convince the suppliers to look at sales of individual packs, in order to target the larger customer base of small & medium enterprises."
"It's better to fail and learn, than not to try at all."

That sounds great.

"Indeed. We launched the store with seven initial categories focused on professional products. At midnight, on the 21st of September 2015, it went live. Where a few seconds earlier there was nothing, a real, usable business was started – that was fantastic! It's expanding rapidly and will include 16 product categories by the end of 2017."

What kind of people do well within your group?

"If you want to grow with the business, you need to think big. For example, I’m responsible for FMCG Private Brands across Europe. Private labels make up to 30-40% of retailers’ revenues and generate over € 900 billion turnover in Europe: you cannot be shy of these numbers, it's your battlefield. And you need to be very passionate about the products and their value for the customer, whether you work on chocolate, coffee, fragrances or stationery. You have to understand what is required to earn the trust of your stakeholders, suppliers and end customers."

Where do you see yourself in the next two years?

"I picture myself doing the same kind of work, revolutionizing our customers' experience. And potentially with an even wider scope, at a global level. I look at my job this way: it’s not just selling diapers that are 5 cents cheaper than the rest. I want to learn what customers really want and how to serve them best, so that we can deliver to them for the next three years in a way that's convenient to them, wherever they are. Even when they are on holiday, they’d get their diapers of choice delivered to the seashore. And we’d build a trustful relationship, which they would like to expand beyond the nappies."

What advice would you give anyone considering a role at Amazon?

"It's all about following your own passion and choosing roles you feel excited about. Once you’re here, reach out to a fellow Amazonian as your mentor to show you the ropes and adapt to the culture. And don’t be shy. You need to be a risk taker here. Even if your risk doesn’t pan out, it’s better to try and then learn how you can make things work next time than not to try at all."

What is it like living in Luxembourg?

"I enjoy it here. With such a large expat community, it’s easy to fit in and build up a social life quickly. The local lifestyle is great, with a safe environment, green surroundings everywhere, short commuting times and a central position in Europe. More importantly, my wife and kids love it here."

2016 – present 
Category Leader Private Brands Consumables EU, Amazon

2015 – 2016

Head of Vendor Management – Business, Industrial & Scientific Supplies EU, Amazon

2008 – 2015
Associate Principal, McKinsey & Company

2007 – 2008
Consultant, Bain & Company

2005 – 2007
Platform & Marketing Manager Wholesale, Telekom Austria Group

2003 – 2004
Marketing & Sales Manager, AIM Software GmbH

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