Shelley L. Reynolds
VP Worldwide Principal Accounting Officer, Amazon
“Today you can be reached 24 hours a day. The clock starts the moment someone presses the ‘send’ button. Time is instantaneous. But young people have grown up in this world, and they are equipped to deal with these demands. They go into business and figure out how to manage expectations better and how to prioritize their time.”
Whatever profession you choose, do men see women as either a female rival with independence and strength, or someone inexperienced that needs to be managed, never as an equal? How do you show your male colleagues that you are an equal without stepping on their toes?
A great aspect of accounting is that the pipeline of women is really strong. And, success in accounting is gender-neutral. It’s a field that values discipline and isn’t about personalities. It isn’t hard to figure out who knows what they’re talking about. You’re not going to bluff your way through it. That being said, I’d love to see more women in the executive ranks of accounting around the world. I think there are not enough women in these ranks, perhaps largely because of the pressures on women who want to have families. I think business culture needs to get better at adapting. On my team, I’m a big believer in flexible work arrangements. When people tell me they’re starting a family, I want to be flexible and figure out what we need to do to make sure they’re able to do what works best for their situation. There is not a one-size fits all answer and it tends to be longer-term, not something that’s solved in a few weeks. We have plenty of opportunities at Amazon–whether that be different hours or working part-time. I want my team to know whatever they choose is OK–that we will make their situation work for them.
What do you now know about yourself that you wish you knew ten/fifteen/twenty years ago? Do today’s young people face a bigger challenge than you did?
I don’t think young people today face bigger challenges than I did–they’re just different challenges. When I started out in business, as an auditor, when a client wanted to reach me, they’d call my office. I typically wasn’t there, so a receptionist would leave a note for me saying, “So and so called–please call them back.” By the time the message was received, we’re talking about a day or two days passing before the client and I were able to connect, we figured out how to transition to a fax machine, voicemail, a computer email, etc. Today, you can be reached 24 hours a day. The clock starts the moment someone presses the “send” button. Time is instantaneous. But, young people have grown up in this world, and they are equipped to deal with these demands. They go into business and figure out how to manage expectations better and how to prioritize their time. Young people today also really impress me with their presentation skills. Groups of business school students will regularly present case studies to companies like Amazon. And, the students who present at Amazon are exceptional speakers and at getting their ideas across. Far superior to anything I ever did at their age! And, maybe their skill in this area has to do with using social media–how they constantly have to be “on.”
Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges in your life that you think helped you become the person you are today?
I’ve never shied away from a challenge. I was a gymnast through my teenage years, and my coach would say, “If we want you to do something, we tell you that you can’t do it.” The writing was on the wall, I guess you could say! I’ve never done anything as challenging as gymnastics. It required phenomenal mental discipline, and there’s no comparison to anything I’ve done professionally. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you mess something up in a meeting? Maybe a bruised ego. But, in gymnastics if you mess up, you wind up in the hospital. My time as a gymnast prepared me mentally to deal with everything in life. I learned how to stay focused and to be disciplined.
Four years into my career, I remember sitting in an all-day training. I wasn’t getting much out of the presentations. Frankly, I was bored and realized that I could just continue sitting in the back of room, checking out and taking up space; or, I could engage and make the day more valuable. So, I started engaging–engaging with the presenters, talking through problems I was having with my clients at the time. That experience made me realize that I’d never be the person who could just check out. That I’m always going to be the person out in front. And, that’s not necessarily where I like to be, but I’m capable.
Who inspires you the most? If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I like underdogs–finding the people you least expect to be successful, because they probably have a pretty incredible story. Anyone who can say, “I’m a kid from town x…how did I end up here?” That’s who I’d like to have dinner with.
What was your best decision to date?
I’ve picked good companies and people to work for. In fact, the person who first hired me into a top accounting firm when I was 21 and a senior at the University of Washington was the same person who hired me at Amazon nearly 20 years later. When he called me about Amazon, I was living in New York and knew I wanted to get back to Seattle. I came in for my full day of interviews, and at the end of the day he called me and said, “You had a good day today!” The next day, I got a job offer from Amazon.
I thought: “what’s the worst that can happen?” That it might not work out and I’d have to find a new job? I thought: “ok, I can do this.” And, after all, it would get me home to Seattle. And here I am, almost eleven years later!
I’ve stayed at Amazon because, like Deloitte (where I was before) the people are phenomenal. We’re a company of owners, and we’re empowered to think big.
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
I’d be able to read minds. I want to know what people are thinking. I always have my brain turning, so I’d want to know what you’re thinking and why!
I love gardening, so any book about gardening or landscaping.
Anything that has rhythm. I grew up on Michael Jackson and Madonna.
My favorite TV show is the West Wing, and my favorite character is CJ Craig. I’d like to have dinner with her! I really admire her ability to just consume information and be able to respond quickly on behalf of the White House. How do you do that!? She can think on her feet so quickly.
I’m not a foodie. If I could live off of bread, cheese and wine, I would. Unfortunately, I can’t exercise my way out of a bad diet!