Alumni Insights: Stephanie Han

Looking in the Past to Building the Future - An Interview with Alumnus; Stephanie Han
INTERVIEW: Stephanie Han, Amazon One

Waterloo Business Review had the privilege of sitting down with alumnus Stephanie Han over the summer to speak to her about her experiences, as well as her time at the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF). Stephanie graduated from the Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) and Master of Accounting (MAcc) programs in Spring 2011. She would go on to graduate from the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the Wharton School of Business in Spring 2018. She is currently a Senior Product Manager at Amazon One in Seattle and previously completed roles within audit, alternative funds, and product management.

Early on, when beginning her post-secondary education at the University of Waterloo, Stephanie had a strong interest in accounting. This led her to the AFM program as it had a strong technical background which combined with co-op, would prepare students well for the world of accounting. Stephanie would go on to complete co-op placements at Mercedes in their accounting and audit department. After graduating from the MAcc program in 2011 and completing the Uniform Evaluation (UFE), she started her full-time career at PwC in their Bermuda office, where she had the opportunity to work as an Assurance Associate in the Financial Institutions group. Within a year, she was promoted to Senior Associate and stayed with the firm for 3 more years before ultimately leaving to join SS&C Corp as an Alternative Fund Manager.

At SS&C Corp, she was able to leverage her experiences from PwC by better understanding the nature in which her clients operate. Through applying both technical and interpersonal skills, she found great success in her role and was able to serve the mandates of clients well - by helping to reduce investment and operational risk year - round. After getting the chance to experience private accounting for 2 years, Stephanie realized she wanted to take a step back from accounting and pursue an MBA to explore different career paths.

When deciding which business school she wanted to attend, Stephanie considered multiple factors with regard to career aspirations, as well as the network she would have the opportunity to build. Despite the large opportunity cost associated with an MBA, she knew her heart was no longer with accounting after experiencing two aspects of the field and wanted to change paths. She knew going in that her main goal was to learn more about the world around her and meet people from different walks of life in order to broaden her overall perspectives, learnings and understanding.

With all this considered, Stephanie decided to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with the goal to find a fresh start.

With a variety of career options made possible and enticing for her to explore, from investment banking to consulting - Stephanie quickly realized she was uninterested in traditional MBA paths and wanted a long-term path where she was passionate about the work she did, the people she was surrounded by, and the long-term impact she was able to deliver.

She sought an intersection between her love for gaming and technology, which culminated in a summer product management internship at Electronic Arts (EA) in the San Francisco Bay Area. During her time in the Core Mobile Gaming group at EA, Stephanie had the opportunity to work on titles such as Apex Legends and Plants vs. Zombies. It was this experience that ultimately shifted her career trajectory towards product management.

While at EA, Stephanie was exposed to a world completely different to her previous experience within accounting. Although there were some applicable transferable skills that she developed in previous roles, the bulk of the work was opposite to what she’d previously been exposed to.

Stephanie explained that the goal in accounting is to inspect the historical financials and ensure there aren’t any discrepancies in the reported figures and reality. In product management, Stephanie saw there weren’t many comparisons that could be made, but rather she was building something new from scratch. This experience not only challenged her critical thinking skills, but also made her realize how much she enjoyed owning a product and controlling its development.

Having had such a positive experience combining both her creativity and problem-solving skills at EA, Stephanie knew that working in product management was how she wanted to explore her new passions. Stephanie explained that an ideal career for her would need to consist of the opportunity to work with intelligent individuals and truly make an impact through applying her creativity and collaboratively developing new, innovative products. To her, “working with smart people and building cool stuff” was something she significantly emphasised when considering her next career move and it only made sense that she chose to work at Amazon, one of the most innovative companies in the world, for her full-time role after graduating from Wharton.

At Amazon, Stephanie has had a large hand in building Amazon One, which is an exciting new product looking to change how consumers interact with loyalty cards, payments and accessing their accounts, while ensuring their identity is secure. Amazon hopes Amazon One can be an innovation that makes everyday activities effortless through providing consumers with increased convenience. Amazon explained, “Amazon One is a fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to make everyday activities like paying at a store, presenting a loyalty card, entering a location like a stadium, or badging into work more effortless. The service is designed to be highly secure and uses custom-built algorithms and hardware to create a person’s unique palm signature.” This technology is already being implemented in several Amazon Go stores and will be a greater part of the Amazon ecosystem in the near future.

Since getting her first taste of product management just over 4 years ago, Stephanie has had the chance to reflect on her career within the space. To her, the key to success as a Product Manager is blending a mix of core skills in a Product Manager’s toolkit with being a “scrappy” individual who has a strong work ethic. She believes customer acquisition skills, the ability to prototype and being able to motivate a team are all crucial skills Product Managers need to have within their skillset. Having dealt with failures when building products, she says the most crucial learning is to own one’s mistakes when they occur and learn how to pivot going forward.

Thinking back on her journey as a SAF student, Stephanie highlights transferability of skills as the biggest takeaway in her career thus far. At PwC Bermuda, she understood the importance of accountability and how to act professionally in a work environment. As a manager at SS&C Corp, Stephanie learned how to effectively allocate her time in order to balance multiple projects and fulfill her various responsibilities. Within her current role in Amazon, she’s enhanced her ability to effectively delegate and manage not only her own workflows, but also the workflows of others. Through it all, she recommends that current SAF students use the co-op system to explore and gain exposure to different career paths to find what they are passionate about.