John Boumphrey made this speech at the launch event for Amazon’s Levelling Up Impact Report.

It’s been a pleasure to work with the Purpose Coalition and its co-chairs, Rt Hon Justine Greening and Seema Kennedy OBE. We admire their long-standing commitment to tackling the challenges facing the UK and to improving social mobility. It’s been brilliant to work with their team on the Levelling Up goals.

John Boumphrey, UK Country Manager, Amazon
John Boumphrey, UK Country Manager, Amazon

I’m John Boumphrey and as UK Country Manager, I am responsible for Amazon’s business in the UK.

Justine previously mentioned Amazon’s wide range of career opportunities including our apprenticeship programme. Creating opportunities for employment and skills development are two of the most important ways that businesses like Amazon can contribute to society.

This month, we made two announcements that I’m particularly proud of: first, we announced that we created 25,000 permanent jobs in the UK in 2021, and second, that our apprenticeship programme will be recruiting more than 1,500 people into these life changing opportunities in 2022.

We have one of the biggest and most diverse apprenticeship programmes across the UK, with forty different schemes from Sustainability to Engineering, and we’re hugely excited to meet our next cohort over the coming months.

Opportunities like those apprenticeships are a good example of what social mobility is all about: enabling everyone to realise their potential, whatever their background and whatever barriers they may have faced.

When I reflect on my own upbringing, and the opportunities that I had, I feel unbelievably fortunate.

I grew up in a household that put a huge emphasis on education and personal development. My parents sacrificed a great deal for me, enabling me to learn about computers, to develop a passion for languages, and nurturing my love of sport, not least through the provision of Mum & Dad Taxi Services at weekends ferrying me between sports matches.

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With three boys of my own now, I have a far greater appreciation for what that sacrifice entails.

In many ways I have had a very typical British education. And when we think about British values, right at the top of that list you usually find ‘fair play’. We like to think that British society is fair, and that we all have the opportunity to discover and use our full potential. But opportunity is not evenly distributed.

For me, progress on social mobility requires that I acknowledge that the environment and opportunities that shaped me, are not available to every child and young adult in this country, and then doing what I can to change that.

My Dad was made redundant when I was 16, and my Mum, who had previously stayed at home to look after us, retrained to be an adult literacy teacher. Her work gave me an insight into the disparity of educational attainment in the UK.

I’ve worked in retail for many years. The retail industry is a huge employer, up and down the country, giving many young people their first experience of work.

Throughout my career, I’ve met many amazing people who have risen up the ranks of businesses to become incredibly successful, despite having dropped out of formal education relatively early on. It often came down to getting that one opportunity, and of course a lot of dedication and hard work.

Those experiences have really reinforced my firm belief in the importance of meritocracy - hiring and promoting must be based on achievement and potential, not on someone’s background. I truly believe that great ideas, and great contributions, can come from anyone, but it’s up to leaders in businesses and other organisations to drive the cultural shifts that enables those voices to be heard.

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At Amazon, our view of work is that it is always changing. We are always inventing, simplifying, doing things better. Roles don’t stay the same year after year, because each of us is working to improve outcomes for our customers, we constantly have to evolve.

From robotics engineers in our fulfilment centres, to product managers working on our new ‘Just Walk Out’ technology at Amazon Fresh stores, innovation for our customers, and making every day at work better, go hand in hand.

At Amazon, we guide decision making with our Leadership Principles. These are guiding principles that we use every single day, from the development of our products, to how we develop our employees.

Our two newest principles are extremely relevant to our work with This is Purpose.

First, we believe that ‘Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility’. We are big, we impact the world, and we are far from perfect. This means we have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to support our employees, their communities, and future generations.

Second, we ‘Strive to be Earth’s best employer’. That means we want to be safer, more productive, higher performing, more diverse, and more just, in everything we do.

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Seema Kennedy OBE, John Boumphrey, Amazon UK Country Manager and Rt Hon Justine Greening at the launch of Amazon's Levelling Up Impact Report

Where these two principles meet, I get to do some of my most interesting work, because organisational success and personal transformation become deeply linked. We want to see our employees, our apprentices, and those that participate in our community and education programmes grow, change, and reach their full potential.

One of the statistics that struck me most in the last year was that more than half of our new hires were coming to Amazon from unemployment, or straight from education. We’re a gateway employer for thousands starting or re-starting their careers, which is both a privilege and a responsibility.

As the head of Amazon’s business in the UK, part of my role is to think about how these principles are realised inside the company and how they frame our contribution to the communities where we operate.

In reading the report that we launched last week, I felt a huge sense of pride in the efforts that our teams have made. Those initiatives include:

  • Providing free STEM education resources to schools and parents across the UK.
  • Challenging the gender imbalance in technology that holds young women back from some of the most exciting careers, for example through the GetIT programme we offer through Amazon Web Services.
  • Creating pathways for children from care, and people leaving the armed services, to help them into rewarding careers.
  • Supporting thousands of new apprentices, giving young people an alternative and more accessible route to growing career areas without a degree, and a route for career switchers who are changing direction later in life.
  • Providing funding and support for employees to learn the skills they need for the next step in their career, whether that’s with Amazon or somewhere else, through our unique Career Choice Programme.

The list goes on... We have been hugely inspired by working with Justine, Seema and the team. We have been able to think about these programmes in a new way, to help create a framework for levelling up post-16 opportunities, which we and other organisations can learn from and use. It’s inspired us to challenge ourselves, to look for new ways that we can do more and go further to create opportunity. Thank you.

Read the full Amazon Levelling Up Impact Report.