Kathleen Carroll draws from her military leadership to recruit great leaders for Amazon

Service. Humility. Leadership.

These words tend to be overused in modern vernacular. But for Kathleen Carroll (MBA 2017), they form a sacred code, a guiding principle for personal and professional exploration, expansion and evolution.

Carroll, a director of executive and specialty recruiting at Amazon, began her own leadership journey in the Midwest, grounded in her deep roots of family, friendships and community. “For me,” she says, “family is the foundation.”

Though born and raised in Chicago, the daughter of a journalist and a newspaper publisher spent her childhood experiencing different parts of the world and their diverse cultures, languages and political systems. This inspired her study of literature, language and foreign policy in college.

The military way

A friend of her father suggested the military as a path to leadership. His advice rang true to Carroll, who was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 2001.

The military proved formidable and enforced the meaning of humility. She felt serving was an honor and marveled at the sacrifice so many gave toward common goals of protecting our country and democracy. “Every day, sometimes through chaos, we worked together to become stronger. This was crucial,” she says. “We all had strengths and it was critical that everyone locked arms and succeeded together.”

Carroll served nearly a decade as a logistics officer. While on active duty, she was a platoon and company commander as well as an acting regimental operations officer. In 2003, she was deployed as part of the initial invasion into Iraq and led more than 225 logistics missions in support of combat operations.

Her concept of leadership expanded immeasurably during that time. “People have specific ranks, roles and responsibilities in the military, and I respect that,” she says. “I also think smart leaders recognize that great ideas and leadership exist at all levels, and work hard to surface strengths and confidence in others.”

Expanding impact

After transitioning from active duty, Carroll took this enlightened approach to her new civilian career at Amazon. “When I left the Marine Corps, I wondered what my next chapter would be,” she says. “I’m wired to have a sense of purpose and wanted to make an impact in my next role. Amazon provided a great opportunity to do this.”

Still, she wanted more as she continued to build her career at Amazon. Carroll decided to enroll in the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program, with the unwavering support of her husband, Chris Kalafatis (whom she met while both served in the Marines) and their three children: Sofia (16), Gus (13) and Hank (11).

Kathleen Carroll with husband Chris and children Hank, Sofia and Gus.

Her experience in the tight-knit EMBA Program solidified her desire to find meaningful ways to create and support community. It also equipped her with tactical and strategic-management skills to scale her career with a broadened lens.

Within Amazon, Carroll grew from leading talent acquisition for Amazon operations to advising Amazon’s chief human resources officer to her current role of executive recruiting for key Amazon organizations like Worldwide Advertising, Prime Video and Amazon Studios, and Devices and Services.

Early on, she also emerged as the company’s point person on recruiting military veterans, and continues to support the expansive effort as an executive stakeholder.

“Amazon employs veterans and military spouses because they bring unique value to every team,” Carroll says. “They have succeeded in challenging environments, making them adaptive and resilient under pressure. They know how to come together with people of diverse backgrounds to accomplish big goals, making them tremendous managers and mentors. We deeply appreciate and respect their service.”

Empathy in action

In 2016, Carroll accompanied Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to the White House to announce the company’s pledge to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses in five years as part of the national Joining Forces Initiative.

“It was a ‘pinch me’ moment,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I was there.”

Sitting with Bezos, First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden, the passion that had driven her second career crystallized before her. Her firsthand experience with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life had produced a potent and empathetic champion of this initiative.

“Military life is difficult for families,” Carroll explains. “My husband and I had back-to-back deployments in the midst of having kids. It’s hard to create and balance norms when someone is always leaving at a moment’s notice. One day at a time, we had to tag-team parent, all while trying to instill in our kids humility and gratitude. Grit and perseverance were essential values established in the military that continued to serve as a foundation for us.”

Create access

For Carroll, to have these challenges heard, understood and supported by both her company and the country she served was a shining “power-of-possibility” moment that she’ll always treasure.

“This is where I view being a leader as making it count for individuals as well as the whole,” she says. “To be an ambassador—whether for my MBA, the Marine Corps or Amazon—gives me something to strive for.”

She lives by an unwavering credo, intentionally building guideposts to pass forward to her own growing kids—and anyone else paying attention. “In the professional world,” she says, “manage your outcome, drive your own destiny, kick down doors, break glass ceilings, embrace challenges, stay active in learning spaces, honor people and create access for others.”

-by Janna Lopez and Ed Kromer