Alexander Eldred (MBA ’16) is no stranger to creating new opportunities. Upon earning his undergraduate degree, the American moved to China pursue a career in global food exports with a startup, learning to speak Chinese on the job. After completing his MBA at HEC Paris, he underwent a complete career transformation, changing job sector, function and location.
We asked Alexander how a German Literature and Biochemistry undergraduate was able to leverage an MBA degree to become the Head of After-Market Services at Amazon France.
What does your job at Amazon France entail?
I deal with all of the customers’ returns that come back in a damaged condition. My challenge is to continuously improve the customer experience, and at the same time maximize the value we get from these returned products.
Why an MBA?
Everything I had ever done professionally until the MBA I had learned on the job, so I was looking for a more academic understanding of these tasks. I wanted to know how to read a balance sheet; I wanted the basics of accounting, the basics of marketing. I thought that having these skills could really help me solidify my career, and they did.
You’ve mentioned only hard skills. What about the soft skills you learned during the MBA?
Amazon is a very data-driven environment. The core MBA classes such as finance, accounting—even marketing—are very data-driven, and they help me to operate effectively in that type of environment.
Even so, data interpretation is only worthwhile if you can communicate your findings to other people. I deal with the whole spectrum of the workforce at Amazon France, from folks in our warehouses to senior leaders. Every day, I apply the communication skills that I learned during my MBA.
The school also provides a safe environment to try out different leadership styles. You simply don’t have a whole lot of flexibility to experiment with leadership when you’re on the job, and HEC offers plenty of chances to test yourself.
Part of what the school builds is confidence—the confidence to navigate new places, in new languages, with new people.
We like to talk about our 92 percent international students. What did you learn from having such an international classroom?
In almost every class at the HEC Paris MBA you have to stand in front of other students and defend your interpretation of things. It’s a great way to learn public speaking. Moreover, there would usually be 6 other groups presenting and interpreting the same cases. Very quickly, you learn that there are multiple valid opinions on the same subject.
One case study I particularly remember asked if L’Occitaine en Provence, the French cosmetics company, should expand into the lifestyle segment by opening up cafés. My group, which was mainly made up of North Americans, concluded no. Yet a group of Europeans, and students from India and from China, came up with a completely opposite approach, one which was equally valid. For me, that really emphasized how important it is to learn alongside a diverse group of students.
Did the MBA help open the door to Amazon as well?
There is no way I would have had my job at Amazon without the MBA. Europe and France, like any other job markets in the world, aren’t necessarily open—you can’t just breeze in from another continent and easily get a job. Doing my MBA in France was part of an overall strategic goal to get a foot in the door in the country. It worked out great.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One piece of advice I have for current students is to not be shy about asking for help. If you’re curious about what an alumnus is doing, look them up on LinkedIn. Spend a lot of time going to HEC Paris Alumni Association events. Introduce yourself. If you’re looking for a job, let us know if we can help.
I’m always happy to help current students, because so many people did it for me when I was in the program. It’s why I like to come out to the campus, to say hello every once in a while.