Becoming a leader in product management: Jay Dave's Amazon career

By Susan Petty

Although Jay Dave, EMBA 16, came from an engineering background, he'd always considered transitioning to a leadership role in product management. ""I still wanted to be in tech, but I also wanted to be part of the decision making process," he says. And in the back of his mind, Jay also thought about how an MBA would help him change his professional path. "I even took the GMAT in 2011," he says, "and then I sat on it for a while."

From program management to developing as a product manager

With a successful history as a program manager at Microsoft, where he worked in application security on the Windows team, and then as a technical program manager at Amazon, Jay eventually did decide to shift from engineering to product management in 2012.

"The shift was not so much for the title but for the nature of work," he says. "At Microsoft I was the owner of a small set of features for a massive platform (Windows). So it was almost impossible to measure the impact of my team's efforts on the business of Windows. For my next role, I wanted to work on a product where I had visibility into the entire value chain and could trace the impact of my efforts on the balance sheet."

"I wanted to be involved in the conversations around why we're doing what we're doing and how to do it best." 

His interest in guiding and influencing a product's lifecycle led Jay to the Kindle Newsstand team at Amazon, where he was responsible first for the launch of interactive magazines on Kindle and later for expanding into international markets. "I knew I would get to work on a product that was focused on a single category (digital magazines) and closely observe how business decisions were made."

Three years later, Jay made another move to a product management role in retail for Amazon Pet Supplies. And while he enjoyed "working in a space that had both a physical and digital product," he found he was curious about the retail side of Amazon's business.

"I wanted to be involved in the conversations around why we're doing what we're doing and how to do it best," he says.

And that's when Jay revisited the idea of business school—and why he decided an MBA from Haas would help him lead both his product and his team.  

Applying his Berkeley MBA at Amazon

While he was simultaneously working and earning his degree in the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program, Jay applied what he was learning at Haas to pioneer the launch of one of the biggest subscription initiatives within Amazon Pet Supplies. "Haas has given me frameworks I can apply to any business problem. I can now ask the right questions to gain insights from my customers."

In addition to the gratification that comes with leading successful projects, Jay has also been able to truly make an impact on—and a connection with—the user behind the product. "I'm able to help to create a product strategy [that] shapes the experience of shopping on Amazon."

Becoming the best leader he can be

Jay recently transitioned to another leadership role in product management, joining the search and discovery team for the home furnishings space.

"In addition to the engineering challenge, this role gives me the opportunity to flex in terms of leadership, negotiation, and building strong relationships… and my time at Haas gave me the tools I need to succeed."

Haas has also provided Jay with broader resources to which he can turn to creatively solve problems.

"When I came to Haas, I'd been in the tech industry for 10 years, and most of my network came from tech and engineering. I wanted to get a more diverse prospective. Doing an MBA at Berkeley Haas connected me with classmates who are experts in everything from public policy to the social sector. If I have a question on a topic or area I'm not familiar with, I know I have a [Haas] friend in that sector who I can go to for insight."

One of my goals it to adjust my style of leadership to be more visionary, and more willing to coach my team."

Most importantly, Jay credits his Berkeley Haas experience for not only enhancing his professional success, but also teaching him about himself.

"Haas had made me more conscious of my management style. I have a pace-setting leadership style, which I learned about in Jenny Chatman's class on creating effective organizations. One of the characteristics of a leader with a pace-setting style is he/she tends to say 'let me show you how it is done—follow my lead'. I have a very new team of product managers that is both new to Amazon and new to product management. We operate as a small startup where we need people to show a strong bias for action."

Although he admits to sometimes thinking "it might be faster if I just did this myself," Jay knows that this leadership style may not always motivate or connect his team,  As a result, adjusting his leadership style has become one of his goals, because Jay wants to not only lead Amazon products, but also Amazon teammates.

"One of my goals it to adjust my style of leadership to be more visionary, and more willing to coach my team."

We invite you to learn more about the Berkeley MBA for Executives program, to read more blog posts about product managers, and to download our free ebook on breaking into product management.

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Posted on August 21, 2017
Susan Petty
Susan is Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program. She has nearly twenty years of experience in marketing and advertising, having worked in several different industries including technology, travel, healthcare -- and many others from her media planning days at J. Walter Thompson where her clients included Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, Nestle, and Ford. She enjoys advising prospective students and guiding them through their personal MBA experience.