Dorothy Nicholls

Vice President

Location: Seattle, WA

"Don’t wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. If you see one that has the potential to really impact your business, take it."

In 2004, I was a senior manager for the team that supports how customers place and receive their orders. In November of that year, in addition to our regular responsibilities, my team was presented with a challenge—create an “All-You-Can-Eat” express shipping subscription service to launch in time for a mid-January announcement. (Today, our customers know this service as Amazon Prime.) It was a risky idea at the time, and many on the team – including my own managers – thought it would be nearly impossible to pull off. We would have to design, implement and launch this complex service in just over a month. The scope of the project was large; it would impact our shipping system, backend services, and the website itself. The timing was challenging too, as we were at the height of the holiday shopping season. But we knew that if we it executed well, this had the potential to become a valuable service for our customers.

After talking to internal experts about the various critical components that needed to be modified, I came up with a plan to execute the idea; my gut told me, however, that a quality product launch would still take us beyond our deadline. If we managed to pull this off, it would also require relentless focus. I had to ask myself what this would mean for me. If I led the project, I would have to focus on it 100 percent and wouldn’t be able to effectively do my “day job” of managing my good-sized team. And what about my personal commitments? How would I integrate the two, and for how long?

My Lean In moment came when I decided we could deliver the service, but we had to do it correctly and adjust our timeline. I recommended to senior leadership that we push out our announcement by two weeks, launching the product in six weeks instead of four. I also asked my manager to help manage my team while I focused on the launch. In the following days, I assembled a team from around the company, pored over user interface and product details every day, and helped launch Amazon Prime just six weeks after its inception. Today Amazon Prime has millions of members and is a game-changing program that continues to evolve.

I learned three important lessons through this experience:

Love what you do, and do what you love.  Some of my fondest memories were those long work weeks, because I loved the team and so believed in the product and what it would do for our customers. Doing what I love has become even more important now that I have two young children, because I want to ensure that the time I spend away from my family is worthwhile.

Take on initiatives. Don’t wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. If you see one that has the potential to really impact your business, take it. It’s the best way to establish yourself as a leader.

Earn trust by delivering results. Even if it means pushing back, have conviction, execute with a relentless focus, and establish a track record of delivery.