A Berkeley MBA Trek to the Amazon (Fulfillment Center)

By Vlada Alexandrov & Alex Shubin, MBA 17

Photos: Jim Block

It's 9:30 am on a Friday morning at one of Amazon’s largest fulfillment centers. Twenty-eight Haasies are waiting eagerly to get a peek at the behind the scenes of every package ever ordered online. This place is huge.

In less than a month, the Berkeley-Haas Career Management Group, Haas Technology Club (HTC) and Berkeley Digital Media and Entertainment Club (DMEC), were able to set up a Haas first-time-ever MBA trek to the Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, California. HTC is one of the largest and most active associations at UC Berkeley, serving as a gateway for students to the highly dynamic tech industry. DMEC is a student-run club focused on creating a community for people to get involved with and learn about emerging trends at the intersection between digital media and entertainment.

After a quick security check, we meet with Kelvin Downes and Cody Carr, directors at the fulfillment center, who share with us some of the little secrets behind the magic of Amazon Prime and Amazon Now. Divided into two groups, we're taken for a one-hour tour around the center, where we get to see the process first hand—from the moment a product arrives from the vendors till the second it's loaded super tightly onto the truck.


Fortunately, we also get the chance to take a look at the center's "stress test"—one of the preparation steps for the upcoming holidays. Imagine a conveyor belt automatically sorting an endless stream of shavers, cookware, and Xboxes, directing them to packaging and shipping. Amazing. No manual labor could ever allow such fast and reliable process of sorting.

Though it's over 83 degrees Fahrenheit outside, we all freeze for a moment when we enter the giant refrigerators that ensure the freshness of Amazon Fresh products. Working in big winter coats, Amazon employees are definitely surprised to see MBA students strolling around the freezing aisles in T-shirts. We should have brought our jackets!

For tech enthusiasts, the most exciting part of our tour is watching the Kiva robots in practice, moving from place to place, in some pre-designed routes. These overgrown Rumba vacuums play a key role in making the whole system work more efficiently, substituting much of the traditional method of employees traveling around the center to pick and locate the various items. One could just stand there, watching them work forever.

What at first thought sounded as just a regular MBA trek (what is so cool about a warehouse anyway?) turned out to be one of the greatest treks of the fall. It was wonderful opportunity to see the real application of Amazon's first leadership principle: customer obsession.



Read about other Haas professional treks:

Berkeley MBA Students Mix with Big Leagues on East Coast Sports Trek

Root Beer Floats with the Oracle of Omaha

Culinary Club AgLocal Trek

 Learn More About the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program

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