Bringing Her Stevens MBA to Amazon Primes Alumna for Success
Convenience, Applied Lessons Made Her Part-Time Degree ‘One of the Most Valuable Professional Experiences I Have Ever Had’
Fatine Zaaj picked an extraordinary time to join Amazon.
She was hired as an operations manager in January 2020, where she’s responsible for safety, quality, productivity and customer experience at the company’s Staten Island, NY, location.
It’s a demanding job in normal circumstances. In a pandemic — with many retailers closed and Amazon facing surging demand — her work has been especially challenging.
Fortunately, Zaaj is up for the challenge.
“Overcoming challenges is what I find most rewarding about my work,” she said. “Operating in a fast-paced, data-driven environment requires a great level of strategic planning, focus, delegation and control. The technology emphasis of my business classes at Stevens has helped me add great value to my career.”
Thinking critically, solving the big problems
Zaaj completed her MBA from the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2019, just before being recruited to Amazon. She has no doubt her Stevens MBA played a role in landing a job she’s very passionate about.
“My Stevens MBA helped me improve my ability to think critically, deal with ambiguity and solve complex problems,” she said. “Amazon hires those who share the company’s famous 14 leadership principles” — like dive deep, think big and have backbone — “and the MBA program has expanded my ability to demonstrate those principles.”
As an operations manager, Zaaj is responsible for leading a team of shift managers and meeting benchmarks for safety, quality, productivity and customer experience — including timely package delivery.
A part of the role she particularly enjoys is mentoring her team to prepare them for future advancement — a core Amazon principle.
“I enjoy taking care of the customer, but I consider myself very fortunate to be part of a culture that encourages me to take care of my team, as well,” she said.
Zaaj, a Moroccan native, rose through the ranks at Zodiac Aerospace (now Safran, following a 2018 merger) after arriving in the United States six years ago. Her engineering background dovetailed well with the School of Business at Stevens, which emphasizes how technology empowers better decision-making and leadership in today’s digitally driven enterprise.
“The solution to the increasing complexity of today’s business challenges is using the right technology,” she said. “Stevens classes introduced me to new technology tools and cutting-edge concepts — especially in the fields of marketing, program management and data analytics — that have allowed me to simplify various projects and drive optimal results.”
An ideal setting for professional students
Zaaj took her MBA classes part-time as part of the Stevens Partners program. The Partners initiative makes graduate school accessible to professionals through a structured, corporate-friendly approach that doesn’t compromise the rigor of a Stevens education. Classes are composed entirely of professionals who move through the program in lockstep, which Zaaj called “one of the most valuable professional experiences I have ever had.”
“The interactions among the students, and the different collaborative projects we worked on, helped me think about a variety of perspectives in solving problems,” she said.
It’s all part of a program design that truly caters to the needs of professionals who take classes part-time — and often online — as opposed to full-time graduate students, said Kal Vadasz, director of business development for the School of Business.
“Our corporate programs are guided by three pillars: academic and teaching excellence, cost/value, and convenience,” Vadasz said. “Rather than one big feature, students really appreciate the 200 little things we do — from a central point of contact, to modest adjustments we make to the calendar to fit school vacations and tuition assistance, to the live online delivery method we began integrating several years ago.”
Gaining a wider perspective was important to Zaaj, whose career aspirations include a senior executive position with international responsibilities — which will allow her to draw on her experiences in Africa and Europe, as well as her command of multiple languages. Ask her about her favorite classes and she’ll tell you about both analytics as well as global business.
Zaaj took Mike Parfett’s Global Business & Markets class early in her MBA coursework, but Parfett, a teaching professor at the School of Business, said even then her talents in critical thinking, analysis and reasoning left an impression.
“Her final group project involved looking at France to define and solve a problem the country could have,” Parfett said. The project wound up looking at the currency exchange in the event of a Brexit-style divorce from the European Union; “I liked her slides on the exchange rates so much that I used them in future classes,” he said.
Dr. Alkis Vazacopoulos, a teaching associate professor in the business school, remembered Zaaj’s enthusiasm for analytics from the beginning.
“When she started using Tableau and RapidMiner, she really understood the power of analytics tools in improving efficiency,” Dr. Vazacopoulos said. “This is vitally important at a prestigious company like Amazon, and shows how mastery of analytics has empowered her career success.”
And Stevens classes don’t just teach you new tools. Zaaj, who graduated as a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma honors society, said she appreciated “the emphasis on the real-life applications of technology,” which made it easier to use those new techniques at Amazon.
The challenges of the job aren’t abating, even as COVID-19’s grip on the New York City region weakens. But it’s clear Zaaj is thriving in the face of obstacles.
“Amazon provides you opportunities to grow into a leader who continually raises the bar for yourself and your team, to deliver the best experience to every customer,” Zaaj said. “Stevens prepared me to be a part of this culture. The MBA program has helped me see the big picture and has taught me to be a better listener, seek different perspectives, appreciate constructive criticism and lead by empathy.”