Launched in January 2017, Amazon’s Military Leaders program takes military veterans and puts them on the fast track for leadership roles at its warehouses.
Rick Nielsen, a former U.S. Navy captain, was just a few years ago at the helm of the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship designed to help Marines stake out beachheads on hostile shores. When deployed, the vessel’s crew could reach some 1,700, and carry about 2,000 Marines onboard.
Now, the 51-year Nielsen, who retired from the Navy in December, has joined a different type of army: Amazon.com, where he’s leading a team of about 70 people at a fulfillment center in Columbus, Ohio.
He’s one of the first cohort of former military leaders to embark on a fast-track leadership program, similar to the one Amazon has created for grads from top business schools. It’s expected to put him on a path toward the top ranks at the e-commerce giant’s ballooning empire.
Nielsen says the leadership skills he fine-tuned in his 29-year Navy career apply at Amazon too. “It’s the same people,” he said. “They have a smiley-face logo instead of a Navy uniform.”
Launched in January 2017, Amazon’s Military Leaders program is the company’s latest effort to bring veterans into its fold. It’s a popular cause — many companies, from Starbucks to Microsoft, do it. A year ago, Amazon committed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years (Amazon says it has already hired “thousands” but won’t give more details.)
But this program represents an interesting twist. It seeks to directly leverage the leadership skills acquired by officers and cutting-edge specialists in the military forces to give structure to its fast-growing logistics operations.
“When they come to Amazon they’re super-successful, they have a bias for action and have proven their ability,” says Rachel Lessard, a former nuclear submariner who is now a recruiter for…