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How Alicia Boler Davis helped guide Amazon through the pandemic

October 22, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Quibi nears its end, Kristen Welker is set to moderate tonight’s presidential debate, and we learn more about one of newbies on this year’s Fortune MPW list. Have a terrific Thursday.

-Engineering Amazon’s future. One of the most interesting aspects of putting together our annual Most Powerful Women lists is learning more about the newbies—i.e. the executives making their debut on the ranking.

This year, that cohort includes Alicia Boler Davis, a 25-year GM vet and engineer who joined Amazon as VP of global customer fulfillment last spring and lands at No. 12 on our list. In his new profile, Fortune’s Aaron Pressman establishes her purview—hundreds of Amazon warehouses worldwide, as well as customer service—as the heartbeat of the retail giant, making Boler Davis Amazon’s “pacemaker.”

A complex job even at the simplest of times, Boler Davis’s role became all the more difficult when the pandemic hit. Orders surged, supply chains strained, and the workers who staff the company’s network of warehouses were suddenly at risk of exposure to COVID-19. In his piece, Aaron dives into how Boler Davis tackled these challenges—meeting some with flying colors and others with mixed results.

Ultimately, her efforts have made her a rising star at Amazon, landing her a spot on the S-team, the select inner circle that advises CEO and founder Jeff Bezos. (She’s the first Black person and fourth woman ever named to the group.) And Aaron reports that some analysts are speculating that she may rise further next year, in a reshuffling after the planned retirement of Jeff Wilke, CEO of consumer at Amazon and Bezos’s longtime No. 2.

To learn more about Boler Davis—and what might come next for her, read the full profile here.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Shortform, short-lived. Quibi, the shortform video startup headed by CEO Meg Whitman, is shutting down. The company raised $1.75 billion in funding but fell far short of expectations after its debut in April. Fortune

- Debate watch. NBC News journalist Kristen Welker is scheduled to moderate tonight's presidential debate. After a week of criticism lobbed at the anchor by President Trump, her colleagues say she's well-prepared for the task. She's the first Black woman to take on the role since 1992. Associated Press

- Protest movement. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes about the protests in Nigeria against SARS, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad; social media video earlier this week captured soldiers shooting into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. New York Times

- Netflix meets Shondaland. Shonda Rhimes is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, where the showrunner discusses her move from ABC to Netflix—the final straw that got her to make the jump was a comment from an ABC exec over Disneyland passes—and the first of her projects airing at the streaming service in December. "I spend a lot of time going, like, 'We should have made 50 shows by now,'" Rhimes says of taking three years to debut her material—a departure from her usual speedy pace. The Hollywood Reporter

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Time promoted Michelle Evers to VP, partnerships for the U.S. west coast and midwest. A Cloud Guru hired Mendix chief people officer Lorraine Vargas Townsend in the same role. 


- Costly mistakes. Economist Dana Peterson began in May to try to quantify the cost of racism to the U.S. economy. She found that closing racial gaps would have added $16 trillion to the country's economic output in the past two decades. Peterson, who left her role at Citigroup for the Conference Board, says the project "gave [her] a chance to talk about everything." Bloomberg

- Stacey on the South. In an op-ed, Stacey Abrams writes that voters in the South must think about access to health care as they head to the polls over the next two weeks. In a region where politicians have rejected Medicaid expansion, voters must remember the policies—and not just the candidates—on the ballot, the former gubernatorial candidate argues. The Root

- In the line of duty. The Army ruled that the death of Vanessa Guillen, who was found dismembered after she had reported sexual harassment by a fellow solider, was in the line of duty. The determination allows Guillen's family to receive her Army benefits. New York Times

- Unhealthy environments. Three physicians who sued Mount Sinai Health System for sex, age, and race discrimination in 2019 write about their experience in this piece. The women say that years of demotions, unequal pay, denied opportunities for advancement, and menial tasks "sank [their] careers." Mount Sinai and other named defendants have denied any wrongdoing. STAT News


Pope Francis backs same-sex civil unions Politico

Being a White House reporter wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. Then came COVID-19 Elle

Placing women on a different sort of pedestal New York Times


"I shouldn’t be the first, you know what I mean? Why is it now? It’s like you guys are so far behind."

-Model Liya Kebede on moments in her career when she was the first Black woman to achieve something