Primed for Leadership
Senior HR Manager
Greatest HR Achievement:
Being named principal program
manager for site development of
Amazon’s second headquarters.
Greatest HR Challenge: Working
closely with Amazon’s CFO to
ensure the company’s entire
finance organization delivered
on its quarterly and annual
HR processes after Johnson’s
manager resigned unexpectedly.
When the manager of Ebony Johnson’s HR finance team at Amazon unexpectedly
resigned in late 2015, just before the
company’s busiest time of the year,
it created a unique opportunity for
Johnson to demonstrate her ability to
operate calmly under intense pressure.
Over the next financial quarter,
Johnson stepped up and worked
closely with Amazon CFO Brian
Olsavsky to make sure the retailer
behemoth’s entire finance organization
delivered on its quarterly and
annual HR processes, including
managing executive-level organization
analysis, delivering compensation
consultation and analysis, and leading
the leadership team through talent
meetings at the top level.
“When Ebony helped me bridge the
leadership gap with our CFO,” says
Darcie Henry, Amazon’s vice president
of HR, “I witnessed a star rising.”
Olsavsky was impressed enough
with Johnson’s work that he directly
supported her eventual promotion.
That, in turn, led to her current
position as principal program manager
for site development of Amazon’s
much-discussed second headquarters.
In that role, she works closely with top
company leadership and is responsible
for building out and developing people
operations for the new site.
“I’m incredibly lucky,” she says.
“My role is to look at the current
and future talent pipeline of our new
corporate footprint and work with new
Johnson joined the Seattle-based
company in 2007 as part of Amazon’s
HR leadership-development program
after receiving an MBA from Cornell
University’s S.C. Johnson Graduate
School of Management, which followed
her bachelor’s degree in economics.
Before joining Amazon, though, she
served as an officer in the U.S. Navy
from 2001 to 2005, where she says
she learned several vital lessons that
she’s carried with her into the civilian
The first, she says, was that her
experience in the Navy in a post-9/11
world helped her to always keep things
“The military is life and death,” she
says, “and the business world, quite
frankly, is not. So, while I take my work
seriously, I don’t take myself seriously.
I always try to be approachable.”
It also galvanized her for the
stressful situations she would soon face
while working for one of the country’s
most innovative brands.
“[Being in the military] helped me
learn how to break down problems, and
that’s highly applicable to the work I do
here,” she says, adding her education
also helped her contribute to the
company’s vibrant whitepaper culture.
Finally, she says, her experience
taught her to value people, a key trait
for HR leaders.
“Regardless of the circumstances,”
she says, “you need to treat people
During her 10 years at Amazon,
Johnson has worked in almost every
HR function, from operations to central
corporate functions to front-line HR-
To wit: When Amazon launched
its physical retail stores, it faced the
challenge of incorporating an employee
population that was disconnected from
its own physical presence into its daily
processes. One area of opportunity
emerged with Connections, a program
designed to change how employees
share feedback and help managers
improve based on data.