As Senior Product Manager, Kindle Content at Amazon, Ramie Abu-Zahra is putting his experience and education to work on projects designed to blow customers’ minds. From his days at Tauber to his days at Amazon, he has continuously been searching - and finding - ways to simply do things better. Here’s how he recalls his time in Ann Arbor, and describes what he’s up to now.
Q: When you think of your time in Ann Arbor and with the Tauber Program, what stands out?
A: It's all about the people. Some of my best friends were in EGL and Tauber, and they've been distinctively successful since graduation. My fellow Tauber alumni always make time to catch up when we're in the same city. I am grateful to be connected to folks across tech, consulting, financial, and manufacturing industries by virtue of having joined the program. Just today, I ran into a team on their Tauber project at Amazon.
One class in particular that stands out was Professor Scott DeRue's leadership course. I remember one particular thought exercise he made us do: to think backwards from your obituary. What would you want people to say about you? What would you want to have accomplished? And to keep that perspective in mind when making important decisions. It's not meant to be morbid, but to put us in touch with our values. It's a very powerful approach that I still use today. Very happy to see him appointed to Dean of the Ross School of Business.
Q: Did your Tauber experience shape the professional that you are now?
A: Absolutely. As a Tauber student, I was addicted to learning about the Toyota Production System. How was it possible that they could reduce inventory, decrease cost, and increase quality at the same time? How could a pull system actually work on such a grand scale? The concepts behind lean manufacturing, while initially counter-intuitive, are genius. Today I work in product management at Amazon. That lean culture is ever-present here: focus on the customer; eliminate waste; improve cycle times. Unless you've been living under a rock, you're well aware of Amazon's push for 2-day, 1-day, and now 1-hour shipping. These same concepts, initially crystallized on the manufacturing floor, have even been adapted to a digital paradigm with obvious parallels in Agile software development.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your work today?
A: As an engineer, I developed a robust set of analytic tools to build creative, well-thought-out answers to problems. And while I continue to leverage that toolset to my advantage today, I've had to work much more on getting buy-in and socializing proposed solutions to a problem. To that end, I've spent the last few years focusing on creating clean, crisp, communication; distilling analyses to their fundamental arguments; and building buy-in from the ground up.
Q: What advice would you give to Tauber students?
A: Keep learning and have fun along the way. Especially in your first years out, be open to taking risk; what’s the worst that can happen? Often times, the answer is another well paid job.
Q: What would fellow alums be surprised to know about you?
A: I've developed a passion for eating, cooking, and building community over food. I've started a dinner club and recently won a cooking competition. Seattle has one of the best food scenes in the country, and if you're ever looking for recommendations in the area, let me know.