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Amazon’s Steve Frazier Presents Harter Lecture to McPherson College and Community

On Monday April 17th, McPherson College hosted Steve Frazier, Vice President of Amazon Business International at the Kansas Municipal Utilities Training Center. As a part of the Harter Lecture in Business series, this event included a lunch and a presentation “Creating a Culture that Drives Growth and Innovation.”

McPherson native Frazier started out by saying that each week Amazon sends out an email with announcements and activities. Despite the fact that he has been behind numerous major launches internationally, he has received the most responses and praise from colleagues who read he was coming to McPherson to speak to the community and to college classes.

Frazier grew up in the McPherson business scene. His dad managed the Safeway store and ran Frazier interiors, while his mother Pat worked at Farmers Alliance. “Five businesses, 58 years. Change is a part of business.” Frazier remarked.

His lecture outlined Amazon’s six major principles and how they can translate to any business, organization or the classroom. He discussed the importance of flexibility, roles the customers can take and the trials and tribulations of keeping a major business fresh as its first day.

He also touched on how Amazon handles growth. It has a “Two Pizza Policy”. This means never have more people than you can feed with two pizzas on a single programming team. It’s not a definite number, as pizza sizes differ and people eat different amounts, but it’s a simple way that’s understood across the world for keeping a team small. When a team is too big to feed two pizzas, then their task load is large enough to be split into another group. A single, small task keeps a team motivated.

Amazon has a “Disagree and Commit” policy, which means when discussing new ideas, people are encouraged to admit they disagree, however, when it’s decided to go forward, everyone must commit to the project. This encourages everyone to speak his or her mind early in discussions and constantly, quickly drives the project forward without resentment from the team to slow it down.

Frazier also touched a bit on Amazon’s hiring processes, a subject he covered earlier in the day when talking to McPherson College business students in their classes. A Q&A session then followed with questions from the audience regarding Amazon’s team management, importing and Amazon’s use of drones in delivery.

Around 120 members of the community attended, ranging from small business owners to larger local companies. Robert Wise, senior attorney from Wise and Reber, L.C., was one in attendance. “McPherson has a well-deserved reputation for producing bright, creative business people, so it was tremendous to hear a McPherson High School graduate who has gone on to have such a significant impact on world commerce,” Wise said. “Amazon is just exploding. Steve doesn’t claim to have made such an impact, but it’s well known. His description of Amazon’s business culture was awesome. He gave us his insider’s view of the company’s ground-breaking commercial and technological innovations.”

This was the first collaboration for McPherson College and the Kansas Municipal Utilities Training Center in McPherson. “KMU was very pleased to partner with McPherson College on the Harter Lecture.  It was great to welcome so many community members into the new KMU Training Center, many for the first time.” said Colin Hansen, Executive Director of Kansas Municipal Utilities. “Steve’s comments on leadership principles and having an organization “Think Big” on its programs and services resonated with me and the work that we do at KMU. We are constantly striving to improve utility service in our communities across Kansas and learning from the successes at Amazon is a great start.”

The Harter Lecture in Business is named for McPherson College alumni Jack and Eleanor Harter who met during their student days at McPherson. Jack served for many years as a member of the trustee board and both have given generously of their time, leadership skills, and resources.