B.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1984
Induction year: 2022
Mechanical engineering seemed to be Taylor’s destiny from a young age. “To my mom's consternation, I was always taking something like a car or refrigerator apart and mostly putting them back together,” Taylor said.
His lifelong belief in Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) began his first year on campus when a dorm mate encouraged him to join the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad. “The people I worked with and the service we provided on campus was the most rewarding thing I did in college,” Taylor said. “I went on to become the president of the squad. An early experience in people leadership.”
Taylor, the senior vice president of Alexa for Amazon, has worked at the company for over 20 years. Over his career he has held multiple roles at the company, including launching and growing the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program, allowing an online seller to utilize Amazon’s numerous huge warehouses to store and ship the products they sell through the Amazon website. When he looks back on the winding path that brought him to this point, he attributes his success to curiosity, good health in body and spirit, and a little bit of serendipity.
“Leading a 10,000-person organization at a Fortune 5 tech company with a vision to develop general artificial intelligence is certainly not what I was planning when I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1984,” Taylor said. “Staying curious and always raising my hand to try new things has been an important element of getting here.”
Throughout his career, Taylor has obtained five patents – three for anti-lock brake systems while working at General Motors and two for Manufacturing services provided online during his time at Amazon.
Degrees from other institutions:
- M.S., Engineering, MIT, 1991
- M.S., Management, Sloan Business School, MIT, 1991
- 2000-present, for the past 22 years, Tom has been a leader at Amazon from its early days as a high risk start-up to becoming a Fortune top 5 company.
- 2017-present, Senior Vice President of Alexa – currently leading a team of over 10,000 engineers, scientists, and business professionals to bring Alexa, the AI voice assistant to over 100 million customers.
- 2005-2017, Vice President, Seller Services - where he led Amazon Payments and Fulfillment by Amazon, which he helped launch in 2006.
- 2000-2004, Director of Operations - He joined Amazon in 2000 to run the US Fulfillment Centers, and then spent two years running Amazon’s supply chain in Europe.
- 1995-2000 Plant Manager, K2 Skis and Snowboards. Tom joined K2 to lead the operation through rapid changes in fiberglass manufacturing processes and at the same time make it one of Fortune 50 “Best Places to Work”.
- 1984-1994, General Motors (GM). Tom began his career at Delco Moraine (now Delphi) as a brake engineer working on the earliest Antilock Brake Systems (ABS) for their high-volume passenger vehicles. Tom returned to school to attain two Master’s degrees at MIT on a GM fellowship and then returned to GM in plant management roles.
- National Society of Professional Engineers, Professional Engineers Certification, 1988
- Two patents awarded while at General Motors for Anti-Lock Brake Systems
- Three patents awarded while at Amazon for Manufacturing services provided online.
Volunteer or personal awards:
Co-coach for a High School First Robotics Team, 2015 and 2016. While the talented team of five high school students often took top five in regional competition, I was most impressed when they were awarded "Best Engineering Design" award in their first year.
How did you decide what to major in at Virginia Tech?
I seemed destined for engineering and at an out-of-state school. My grandfather was a mechanical engineer who worked on the turbines at the Grand Coulee dam and I was often exposed to other kids' parents who were engineers at Dupont in Wilmington, Delaware where I grew up. I was certain that I wanted to be a mechanical engineer by the time I enrolled at Virginia Tech.
As a Virginia Tech student, did you hold a scholarship, assistantship, or fellowship? If so, what did it provide for you and what was the impact of it on your life?
I did receive a scholarship in my first few years at VT and it probably made the difference in the school that my parents and I could afford. My wife had a similar experience at her university and we have both been paying it back by endowing scholarships at our alma maters.
What do you wish we would have asked about your time at Virginia Tech?
I wished you had asked about the time the combined forces of Lee, Pritchard, and O'Shag started a snowball fight with the ROTC end of campus. Guess who won?
What was the moment in your career that you felt like you made it - that you were really proud of yourself for what you had accomplished?
Have I “made it”? I certainly hope not. I hope to continue to learn and grow and add value to the world. I believe life is like a mortgage or an IRA – you really only start to make traction in the later years. I appreciate and feel lucky to have had the success I have had so far but I also plan to continue “making it”.
What do you wish we would have asked about your career?
How did you get from here to there? While I can look backward and see the winding path – an engineering degree gave me system thinking, working at a GM plant gave me tools to manage larger teams, working internationally gave me a more global perspective, starting a small business gave me a founders passion for customers and growth – I accept there was a good deal of luck and serendipity along the way. Staying curious and always raising my hand to try new things has been an important element of getting here. And staying healthy, in every meaning of the word, healthy in body and spirit, healthy in family and friend relationships, has allowed me to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.
What charitable organizations do you currently support and why?
My wife and I have endowed three scholarships to universities that are important to us - Virginia Tech is one. We believe education is important but financially difficult to access so we hope to help as we can.
Is there a current college initiative that you are passionate about and would like to see it have success?
We believe that education in the STEM topics is incredibly important to our societies future regardless of your degree or major and invest our energy in support of those initiatives.
Please note: Inductee spotlight is as of their year of their induction.