For much of his career, Billy Hegeman had the job everyone wants: the Amazon manager worked his way through multiple vendor and product management roles in divisions including sports, outdoor, and kitchen. He was on the team that launched Prime Pantry, Amazon’s first direct-to-consumer CPG offering, and, due to the flexible nature of the company, never spent more than a few years in the same role.
“One of the things I have enjoyed most about my career at Amazon is the rotational culture of the company,” says Hegeman. “One of our core beliefs is that experience across diverse industries, products, and mechanisms help us innovate on behalf of customers. We believe this is a key input to building a strong and dynamic business.”
So when the opportunity came to serve as lead of a fledgling Amazon business — a completely different kind of management role in a city across the country — came about, Hegeman jumped into the role.
After a move to Atlanta in 2016, Hegeman now serves as COO of fabric.com, an Amazon subsidiary acquired in 2008 for an undisclosed amount. Fabric.com, which has its office and fulfillment center in Kennesaw, Georgia, is an online fabric store that provides cut-to-order fabric from both its standalone website and on Amazon.com.
Hegeman says that, though the business was acquired eight years before he moved in, it was, in many ways, still operating as a standalone operation. He determined to not only work on streamlining the business and processes, but integrate some of Amazon’s people principles into fabric.com’s culture, as well.
Those principles include an intense focus on operational excellence, a concentration on metrics, and a customer-first perspective. However, Hegeman says he also had to be mindful that fabric.com was not the Amazon complex — the few hundred employees he now led had their own culture already in place. Moreover, he says he’s conscious that the south is not Seattle.
Since he came on two years ago, Hegeman has helped the business expand its customer base and grow revenue. Here he tells us more about determining how to measure success, what he’s learned from Amazon’s leadership principles, and how fabric.com is now a dog-friendly workplace.
What was your motivation to move from your former product/operations roles at the main Amazon HQ to take on the role leading fabric.com?
Taking a leadership role at a subsidiary presented a unique opportunity for personal growth, where I could leverage my Amazon experience to run a standalone business. On a personal side, I spent time in the southeast and Greater Atlanta as a child. So, I’ve always felt a connection to the area. In fact, I have my name on a brick in Centennial Olympic Park that I was surprisingly able to find when I moved back. I am also definitely enjoying the sun.
What is it like leading what is essentially a startup within the giant conglomerate of Amazon?
Even at Amazon’s scale, in many ways it still functions like a startup. Fabric functions similarly, but we are also able to leverage Amazon’s strengths. The autonomy of the subsidiary experience is empowering, and knowing we can lean on Amazon leaders and teams to help us delight customers is an added benefit. It really is the best of both worlds.
Describe some of the processes and business principles you have put in place since arriving at fabric.com.
After arriving at fabric.com, I spent a lot of time with leaders in the business learning about their team. We took a hard look at defining the inputs we needed to track and measure obsessively so we could make decisions that result in happy customers and a successful company.
Focusing on inputs versus outputs is something Amazon does extraordinarily well, and it was important to integrate that principle at fabric.com. Rather than focusing on profits and sales, we focus on things like the quality and breadth of our selection, the speed and quality of our delivery, the volume and quality of our customer service contacts — things that bring delight to our customers.
How have you integrated Amazon’s culture and business principles into fabric.com’s culture and processes?
Amazon’s Leadership Principles provide a great framework to build a company culture. It all starts with Customer Obsession. For us, that means having the fulfillment center and customer service team onsite provide the entire business with a direct connection and feedback loop from customers every day.
My favorite leadership principle is Hire and Develop the Best. We have spent a lot of time building more robust processes around individual growth and development, helping our team connect with peers at Amazon HQ and other subsidiaries, and becoming an importer and exporter of internal talent within Amazon. I’ve been fortunate to have a handful of super talented colleagues from Seattle join me here at fabric.com, which has been a huge culture addition.
Additionally, we’ve been able to connect team members with new opportunities within Amazon, which helps the team here realize they are all part of something really big and exciting.
Finally, we’ve adopted Amazon’s dog friendly office policy, so getting to pet a few awesome dogs as I walk around daily has been a big win.
What has been different about this office environment versus Seattle HQ? What do you intentionally want to keep about fabric.com’s culture and environment that is different?
The biggest difference is the physical space. The majority of our square footage is fulfillment center, whereas Amazon’s Seattle headquarter is office workspace. This works really well for fabric.com, because we can easily walk between the retail offices and the fulfillment center floor, which allows us to collaborate across functions quickly. We’ve focused on integrating the best of both worlds — such as investing in physical space across the offices that feel more ‘Amazonian’, leveraging additional Amazon office space in Atlanta for meetings or remote work, all while keeping our home base in our fulfillment center in Kennesaw.
What is coming up for the business over the next year?
While we continue to grow our business and integration with Amazon, our core focus will continue to be centralized on delighting customers on both fabric.com and on Amazon. I’m really looking forward to 2018.
Photos provided by Amazon