Patrick Gahr '04

“What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you – what used to be a tailwind is now a headwind – you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy.” – Jeff Bezos (Founder and CEO of Amazon)

Patrick Gahr, a graduate of St Mary’s class of 2004, has found his niche. Twice. Today, he works as a manager in the Human Resources department at Amazon, where he is a domestic leader of the global team that helps Amazon to remain successfully “customer obsessed,” because he and his team are “employee obsessed.” Patrick’s personal success story, however, involves a twist: after he purposefully headed off in one distinct direction, toward a career in international politics, he suddenly found himself working in a totally different, yet inherently satisfying, career capacity. While Patrick’s story might be seen as just another prudent reminder about the importance of critical thinking and ongoing education, about following the advice of mentors, and being proactive when it comes to finding one’s career path, it also offers priceless advice about navigating in the ocean of career opportunities in the twenty-first century, where purposeful immersion into challenging situations, the maintenance of a global orientation, and the willingness to adapt are the key ingredients in the all-important journey of both a company and the ‘self’ who is fruitfully engaged in that corporate endeavor. 

The Tailwind:
From May through November of 2011, Patrick Gahr was just beginning to hit his stride: he was living in Geneva, Switzerland and doing important work for the United Nations, analyzing policy, conducting research, and assisting with speechwriting for the Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit. And Patrick had worked hard to get his name on a badge and grace those hallowed halls of the Palais des Nations: after graduating from St. Mary’s, he attended Seattle University, earning a BA in International Studies and Japanese Language, with brief stints of cultural immersion and study in Argentina and Japan, where he undertook intensive Spanish and Japanese language instruction. Inspired by both his undergraduate studies and his extracurricular involvement with Model U.N, the SU Interfaith Council, and International Club, Patrick applied and was accepted to be a teacher and cultural ambassador in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET), spending two years in the village of Takayama, Japan. To cap off his education, Patrick then struck out for the Emerald Isle, attending Dublin, Ireland’s esteemed Trinity College, where he earned a Masters In Philosophy in International Peace Studies as a Rotary Ambassador Scholar and served on the Interim Committee for the Irish School of Ecumenics. Patrick, it seems, had paid his educational dues and found his niche. 

But when the United Nations’ mission was accomplished, the wind changed direction: “The UN has these rules in place that you can’t hire interns for six months. It’s a very bureaucratic process, for reasons that are good. And so I had to come back to the United States and look into the career aspect.”

The Headwind:
Patrick arrived in Washington, D.C. as the city was emerging from the Great Recession and began a career search. He found a very rich environment with lots of high-powered political “exposure,” but with limited paid possibilities. After working as a Project Coordinator for the US-Japanese Research Institute, Patrick came face to face with another uncomfortable and indisputable fact: his expenses and work compensation had not achieved an amicable sustainability. So he was forced to “regroup and retarget” before choosing to move back to Seattle, a city that had achieved a reputation as a fertile hub for the “new economy” companies of the internet and clean technology. 

Today, Gahr credits this stage of his career with teaching him a powerful, perhaps regret-tinged, lesson: any career builder who is seriously interested in living in a certain location, and finding his “niche” more quickly, ought to be open to a job that will provide a stable source of income, even if it means working in a more menial job. With a more stable financial footing, Gahr counsels, one can afford to be highly discriminating while in the stress-inducing hiring process. His advice to those in such a position is to remember that choosing a career is you “interviewing that company and opportunity,” just as much as an interview of your skills and qualifications. “You shouldn’t just take a career job because you need money to pay for your living.” 

Interviewer: “So, how does a guy with your background (in international policy) end up working for Amazon, a global company that sells products and services?”
Gahr (laughing): “That’s a good question, and honestly it comes with a struggle. I’ll be completely honest on how it happened and say that I had no intention to work for this company.”  

Leaning into the Future:
Gahr, who now works in a business capacity for Amazon’s Human Resources department, overseeing a team who move employees from one role to another role through partnering, compensation, relocation, and immigration, regards himself as a “low risk (Amazon) hire,” having been brought onboard for a temporary position by a hiring manager who saw the U.N. credential on his resume and thought, “This is too interesting to pass up.” Gahr’s thoughts on the matter were similar: ‘There is something of value here at Amazon, and I am going to find it.’

Patrick immediately found the environment at Amazon to be “harmonious,” productive, and human development-oriented. He credits Amazon’s success with its willingness to constantly court change, that no corporate policy or business practice is written in stone, for improvement and efficiency can only come about through constant innovation. Amazon, he shares, has built upon and leveraged several methodologies for continuous improvement, from the Six Sigma model to the “system kaizen” (continuous improvement) approach of successful Japanese corporations. Since coming on board, Gahr has been promoted twice, earned a certification to be a Project Manager through Agile, and found his present-day niche within the company that he now describes as “hard to leave.” 

Patrick, likewise, credits his own ability to thrive in such a dynamic atmosphere with his earlier foreign travel experiences and wanderlust, the roots of which were fostered at St. Mary’s by a diverse curriculum and faculty who maintained an outward-looking and, even, global perspective: “You have to walk the path and see for yourself what troubles you are going to have, and you’re going to have them, but you just need to face them, and come at them in such a way that you are going to gain some experience.”  While Patrick looks forward, in a post-Covid future, to seeking fresh foreign travel immersion challenges, his past foreign travel and international studies have done more than just prepare him for a volatile marketplace, they increased his empathy for others in the human family who, he recognizes, are seeking peace and prosperity, truth and harmony, and “know the value of aspiration.”

With a sister and parents who still reside in nearby Ashland, Patrick periodically pays a visit to the Rogue Valley, where is excited for his alma mater’s recent adoption of the MOD-based calendar and expanded class offerings, particularly in the area of robotics. He laughed when he shared that Amazon has a policy requiring all business proposals to be written in prose, rather than offered in a PowerPoint format, suggesting that his high school and university experience had more than prepared him for the rigors of this style of creating company policies.

While it might seem odd that Patrick Gahr set off on a career in international politics and ended up working in the HR division of a rapidly expanding global company with 1.3 million employees, Patrick is quick to point out that his efforts at using critical thinking, technological tools, and his team of international colleagues to improve the efficiency and standardization of staffing, resourcing, equity, talent acquisition, and talent placement for new business launches are very much akin to the path of international politics that he originally trod, especially in this time of Covid-19.  In order for Amazon to meet its objective to be the world’s most customer-centric company, it takes the talents of many employees like Patrick Gahr, whose “product is people,” to lean into a future in which the winds will constantly be changing direction.