The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

A Day in the Life of an M&T Alum: Charlene, Class of 2005

by Charlene C., M&T Class of 2005

Our ‘A Day in the Life’ series highlights alumni in various fields and positions, offering a glimpse of what life after graduation is like. This post comes to us from M&T alumna Charlene, currently working in ecommerce in New York.

Please briefly describe what industry you’re in and what your particular position entails.

I work in ecommerce retail for Bookworm.com, a children’s and teen book site that is part of the Quidsi family of sites and an Amazon subsidiary (that’s a mouthful). As the Associate Director of Merchandising, my position requires me to work with vendors and manage elements of the onsite experience, including product assortment, pricing, merchandising, site taxonomy/navigation, and helping drive the business side of new site features and offerings.

What time did you get up this morning before work?

7:00 a.m. to go to the gym.

What time did you start working, and what time were you done for the day?

I usually get into work around 9am and end the day around 7pm.

What were some of the projects you worked on today?

Projects I worked on today:

  • Modeled out what level of sales increase would be needed to offset a change in site wide pricing
  • Managed inventory for holiday titles
    • Worked with a vendor to negotiate the return of holiday titles that were shipped late
    • Worked with supply chain to prioritize key holiday titles we’re out of stock on
    • Discussed sales/markdown strategy with my team to clear holiday titles
  • Discussed with vendors a key contract we needed them to sign for a new on-site initiative
  • Reviewed sales report for changes in sales, margin, and top titles
  • Brainstormed ideas for our new on-site banners (e.g., theme, titles to feature, etc.)

Who specifically did you interact with today, besides fellow coworkers (clients, researchers, etc.)?

Apart from co-workers, I mainly interacted with vendors. On occasion I’ll also interact with potential business partners and counterparts at Amazon.

Are you currently traveling or about to travel for work?

I don’t really travel since most of the large publishers are located in NY. Those that aren’t tend to have sales reps that travel.

What was your favorite part of the work day?

Checking sales performance for the site. The site just launched 2 months ago so I still get quite excited when I check on sales. We’re also in the throes of the holiday shopping season so sales are generally going up (which makes everything more fun).

What are some of the challenges within your position that you particularly enjoy?

Becoming more knowledgeable about the children’s and teen book space and making sure we have top titles, new releases, etc. This is an important part of managing the site … and it’s also a handy party trick. It’s amazing how many people ask me for book recs nowadays (here, here, here and here).

How did you end up in your current position?

Out of undergrad, I joined Monitor Group, a strategy consulting firm, as part of their Innovations Team. The pitch was helping companies drive growth by finding opportunities at the cross section of business and technology. As you may imagine, I didn’t have too much difficulty convincing them that I’d be a good fit. While I learned a lot at Monitor, my projects were fairly high level and I sometimes felt disconnected from the companies I worked with. I decided to recruit and ultimately joined Insight Venture Partners, a tech investment firm, as part of their in-house consulting team. The people I met at Insight were incredibly smart (I should mention there were more than a few M&Ts) and it was a great way to get closer to company operations. I had a fantastic experience at Insight but eventually realized that I wanted to be more than a consultant, or even an investor. I wanted to be an operator. I decided to try corporate and felt an MBA would be a good jumping point. I went back to Wharton and spent my summer at Amazon as part of their Children’s Books Team. I had a great experience and grew to really love the children’s book space. Unfortunately, Seattle was a bit far from my now fiancé (fellow M&T Matt E. also from the Class of 2005). Amazon facilitated a conversation with the team at Quidsi, and as chance would have it, Quidsi had just started thinking about launching a children’s book site. It was a great opportunity – working on site conception, launch, and continuing on to manage growth – and exactly what I was looking for.

How did M&T help prepare you for where you are today?

M&T has impacted me in so many ways. The most basic is that it gave me an opportunity to explore and find that right combination of business and technology that worked for me. Coming from a family of computer programmers, it’s not clear how long it would have taken me to find the world of business without M&T. At the risk of sounding cliché, M&T has also made me more multi-dimensional in the way that I approach and tackle problems. It has given me a broader tool kit to work with, and when the right tools are missing, the confidence that I can develop and understand the new tools that I need. Most importantly, M&T has surrounded me with smart, curious, insightful, amazing people that have influenced how I think about my life and career as well as helped me along the way. There’s something about the type of person that becomes an M&T and I can’t help but be drawn to. Case and point, I’m marrying one and will have 3 in my bridal party.

What advice do you have for those who might be interested in pursuing a similar path?

The first is that life is a tricky and meandering path and there’s only so much you can do to control where things take you. I’ve found many times in my career and in life that seeming successes ended up working to my detriment, or setbacks ended up working to my advantage. It’s important to not dwell on things and to try your best to just adapt. If you’re able to find a career path that excites you and that you’re passionate about, the best you can do is try and stick with it and head towards that general direction. That said, there’s also nothing wrong with changing course. Sometimes things have a funny way of working out – and being smart people, the odds are in your favor that things will work out.

The second is basically what Leo Chang wrote in his Day in the Life entry. I couldn’t have said it better. Work on the soft skills – in the real world, it’s only sometimes the case that the smartest person is the most successful. If you’re smart and well liked, that’s a pretty good combo.

Charlene is Associate Director for Bookworm.com at Quidsi in New York City. She graduated from M&T in 2005 with an Individualized Bachelor of Applied Science from Penn Engineering as well as a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School with concentrations in Finance, Accounting, Operations and Information Management, and Management. She is also a 2012 graduate of the Wharton School, having earned her MBA. In her spare time she enjoys decorating her apartment, reading comic books and sci-fi fantasy novels, and playing mobile games. The last movie she saw for fun was Skyfall and she loves traveling to Japan. 

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