Amazon’s Dave Clark Discusses Innovation, Nashville Operations Center, at Global Supply Chain Forum

November 20, 2018

When Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations for Amazon, spoke in Knoxville at the Global Supply Chain Forum on November 14, he shared more than insight into his company’s worldwide supply chain strategies with members.

“Twenty years ago I was at this very same forum looking to start my career,” Clark said, while delivering the keynote. The event is hosted annually by the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business.

Clark, a 1999 graduate of the Haslam MBA program, specialized in logistics and transportation during his time at the college. After graduation, he placed his confidence in a company that was little known at the time: Amazon.

He has been with the company ever since.

Ted Stank, the Bruce Chair of Excellence in Business, asked Clark how Amazon remained innovative as it grew into a global company. Some of the company’s recent initiatives include Amazon Flex, which crowdsources package delivery using an app, in-home package delivery, and in-car package delivery.

“If you put together a good plan, and you execute that plan, and customers don’t like it or it just doesn’t work – fine,” Clark said. “That kind of thing isn’t punished in our world. It’s rewarded. We've had to really adapt and think about how we operate in different environments and come up with some new practices.”

Clark pointed out that Amazon relies on standardized infrastructure, saying, “You can walk into a fulfillment center of ours in Poland or Chattanooga, and those sites look exactly the same.”

Much of the company’s innovation, he said, comes from adapting to the idiosyncrasies of local environments. In India, the company delivers through partnerships with small storefront businesses who know the local area as not all homes have standard addresses. These partners also can accept cash payments in an economy that uses credit cards less.

“Customers pay for delivery at the moment they receive their package, and they also like to open the package and validate the goods,” Clark said. “Even in those situations, a solution can be engineered from halfway around the world.”

Amazon announced the day before the forum that in addition to establishing new headquarters in New York City and Northern Virginia, the company has selected Nashville as a new Operations Center of Excellence. Clark confirmed the move is expected to create more than 5,000 jobs and comes with a $230 million investment.

This was the last forum led by Paul Dittmann, who is retiring as executive director but will remain active in Haslam’s Global Supply Chain Institute and the department. Dittmann’s years of service were lauded by his colleague, Reuben Slone, executive vice president of supply chain and procurement at Advance Auto Parts.

Dittmann is succeeded by Mary Long, who joined as managing director of the forum in September.

New forum sponsors this year include: Advance Auto Parts, AT&T Business, Belk, Dover Food & Refrigeration, Elo Touch, Green Mountain Technology, Harris Corporation, Leonardo DRS, Shaw Industries, Inc., and XPO Logistics. They join a group of more than 65 global partner organizations.