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2023 Day in the Life: Andrew Lee

April 14, 2023

Posted online

There are 1,800 employees at the Amazon fulfillment center in Republic, and as General Manager Andrew Lee walks the floor – something he does at least once a day – it seems like he stops to say hi to all of them.

On a recent Friday walkabout, Lee, a die-hard Kansas City Chiefs fan, offers an associate in a Las Vegas Raiders shirt a little good-natured ribbing. He encounters another associate on the walkway, and she picks up her tiny service dog and hands it over for some snuggles. Lee waves at people driving pickers and chats with others beside conveyers, and there’s a ready familiarity that gives the 1.3 million-square-foot building a degree of intimacy.

Lee says his pedometer tallies 10,000 steps most days, though the fact he’s in a walking boot following a tendon blowout has put a hitch in his get-along.

“Being a Chiefs fan has cost me an Achilles,” he jokes. He was in a cast for two and a half months before getting his boot, and now he has a steerable knee walker that he’s supposed to use on the warehouse floor, though he frequently parks it to hobble up to an associate for a chat.

Today’s walkabout kicks off his afternoon agenda, but it’s already been a busy day for Lee. Family comes first for the GM, literally; he’s already gotten his 7-year-old daughter Amelia ready for school and had doughnuts with her and his wife, Megan, having seen his older kids, Ella, a senior, and Tucker, a freshman, off to school.

When he first arrived at the facility at 8 a.m., he prepped for his morning call with Amazon’s regional director to discuss inventory coming in and out of the plant. Logistics is the name of the game at Amazon as production numbers and projections are updated throughout the day. Operations Manager Mark Bacon keeps an analytical finger on the pulse, but Lee is constantly keyed into production metrics as well.

The morning also includes a regional staff call with leaders of seven other sites; Lee is the safety point person for the region.

On this day, Lee has spent the noon hour in a lunch-and-learn with some of the building’s new area managers. One just moved to the area, and other members of the management team offer restaurant recommendations and talk about great places to enjoy the outdoors.

One piece of advice Lee contributes is to keep things fun.

“At the end of the day, we’re putting stuff in boxes. It can get a little monotonous,” he says.

Lee is one of those people who speaks in aphorisms, meaning every third statement he utters comes out ready to stick to a bumper or iron onto a T-shirt.

To the newcomers, he offers this counsel: “Insist on high standards. It’s the only way to be fair and consistent.”

People who have a grab bag of sayings, be they parents, coaches or bosses, seem to share one common trait: They don’t make things up as they go along. Instead, they are intentional, guided by a deep philosophy.

At the luncheon, Lee asks the veteran members of his management team to name the best way to have a meaningful exchange with an associate.

“Ask a question,” they answer in unison, then all laugh at their rote response.

Lee has offered the advice in response to a question from a new manager who was having trouble getting associates to stretch before the workday. His suggestion is to ask associates to name the most common cause of injury, and that turns out to be not physically preparing for the work they have to do.

Lee cleverly practices what he preaches even in this small exchange.

The afternoon includes some surprising tasks for the GM of such a large plant. But Lee and his operations team take to the parking lot with grabbers in hand to pick up any litter they see and do a safety and signage check.

After a 2 p.m. meeting with the senior leadership team, where the operations team discussed projections for the coming week, it’s time for some levity as Lee heads to the breakroom. There, a half-dozen associates join him for games like ping-pong, Connect 4 and – an ironic twist – giant Jenga.

Think of it: Lee oversees a building large enough to hold 24 football fields, where 120 hydrogen-powered pickers traverse aisle after aisle of the 30 1/2-foot-high racks of merchandise. It’s sort of funny to see him reaching up to balance a piece of wood precariously on the teetering top of a tower that will inevitably collapse. Lee’s near obsession with safety makes it a study in opposites.

It’s 4 p.m. when Lee finishes mixing it up with associates and takes a seat at his desk for a final hour of weekend preparations. Lee has a door desk, one of Amazon’s symbols, based on one made by a budget-conscious founder Jeff Bezos in the early days of the company. Bezos purchased a cheap door and some boards and fashioned a desk that was cheaper than any he could find to buy. These days, the door desk represents both frugality and creative problem-solving.

Lee is a former kindergarten teacher and onetime active-duty Air Force member who remains a first sergeant in the 139th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, based in St. Joseph. He has some Air Force friends who are coming to Republic for a visit, and tonight after work he plans to grab dinner in Springfield, then head to Lindberg’s Tavern on C-Street to catch up with them and unwind.

Even late on a Friday, Lee seems coiled with energy and ready for whatever adventure comes along. Behind his door hang his camouflage Air Force uniform and a wild flamingo-print sport coat.

Incidentally, flamingos are everywhere at the Republic center – they were chosen by Lee as a mascot.

“I’m on a personal mission to start Flamingo Friday at Amazon worldwide,” he says, and he doesn’t seem to be exaggerating or joking. At the Republic plant, many of the associates don flamingo clothing on Fridays, and the symbol seems to always be in one’s eyeline.

He offers no complaints, having walked literal miles through the plant on a sore leg, but he’s happy to share what he knows.

Lee is an adherent of Lean Six Sigma, a process improvement strategy that looks to remove waste, whether of materials or physical energy. He is also a fan of the management-by-walking-around style.

“Occasionally during the week, I’ll jump in and I’ll pack with them,” he says of the associates. “To be honest, it’s fun to get out of the office.”

Lee says one of the hardest parts of his job is also the most rewarding.

“I enjoy helping people, but there’s a lot of people that are going through some real, real-world stuff, and sometimes that can weigh on you a little bit,” he says.

Though he’s an Air Force noncommissioned officer, Lee says he could never lead from 50,000 feet.

“It’s not my style,” he says. “I think I’m better if I get my hands dirty and get in there and interact. And luckily, I’m with a company that supports that.”


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