Amazon Spheres.
The Amazon Spheres at the company's corporate campus in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Samar Husain '15)

Amazon Taps a Tommie for Competitive Program

A chance to work in the video game industry or with Hollywood celebrities is a dream for many.

For Samar Husain ’15, it’s one that came true, not once, but twice. Husain recently beat out thousands of applicants for a coveted position on the video games team at Amazon headquarters. In a prior role on the mega-retailer’s Prime Video team, he collaborated with actor Hugh Jackman.

The Opus College of Business alumnus, who majored in operations and supply chain management, credits St. Thomas for his career success.

“St. Thomas’ curriculum built a strong foundation of business acumen that has set me up for a successful career over the past six years,” said Husain, who also has worked for Target Corp. “The cross-disciplinary education I received, coupled with the principles of hard work and humility that were instilled in me at St. Thomas, will certainly be valuable working in Amazon’s fast-paced culture.”

Husain is part of Amazon’s Retail Leadership Development Program. In his new role as a senior vendor manager, he is responsible for managing Amazon’s relationships in the virtual reality/digital gaming space, including managing the relationship with Facebook’s Oculus.

“It’s a nascent segment of the overall video games industry, but is growing rapidly and is increasingly becoming mainstream,” Husain said.

Samar Husain ’15 at Facebook's Seattle office. He manages Amazon's relationship with Facebook’s Oculus.

The main reason the Retail Leadership Development Program attracts such a high level of interest is because it fast-tracks candidates onto leadership roles at Amazon. After two rotations that last 18 months each, candidates graduate from the program and usually manage a functional team.

Amazon’s description of the program to applicants says, “[You will] be responsible for delivering innovative solutions to large scale problems that no company has had the opportunity to solve before and assume responsibility to make decisions that will impact long-term free cash flow. If you do it right, you could be leading a billion dollar+ business in seven years … or sooner.”

This isn’t Husain’s first time working at Amazon’s headquarters. He was a vendor manager for Prime Video for nearly two years, and he’s excited to be back.

“Amazon is a place where if you have a good idea, nobody’s going to tell you no. They might ask you to refine it, they might ask you whether it makes sense, but when I was at Amazon before, I was never just told no. And I had all kinds of ideas,” Husain said.

One such idea was a live singalong screening to the movie “The Greatest Showman” to coincide with the film’s release on video. He floated the idea to the film’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox. He didn’t hear from the studio for a few weeks, until one evening when the studio called him to let him know that they wanted to move forward with the idea and that the film’s star, Hugh Jackman, would make an appearance, but that it had to happen in 2 ½ weeks, and in New York City. Husain got to work.

Prime Video had never done a live event with Amazon Prime members before, let alone one featuring the star of a film. Husain found 350 Amazon Prime members in New York City who were fans of the film to attend the event, which was a success.

Looking back on his time at St. Thomas, Husain particularly appreciated Decision Analysis, a course taught by John Olson, Opus professor of operations and supply chain management, who also is the faculty director of the Master of Science in Business Analytics program.

“It was very useful, especially when I went to Target Corp. as an entry-level analyst, because it was incredibly quantitative,” Husain said. “I think that I learned more about Excel in the few months [in the course] than I have in the entirety of my career.”

Beyond that technical learning, he appreciated how St. Thomas professors weave the common good into their courses.

“There was a cumulative impact of the curriculum being centered around the common good, how St. Thomas alumni can make a positive impact on the world,” Husain said.