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Maria Renz: From Design Undergrad to Google GM & VP of Commerce

May 6, 2024
Follow Maria Renz's remarkable journey from a design undergraduate to a pivotal figure in tech giants like Amazon and Google

By Arial Starks

Pictured: a headshot of Maria Renz, the keynote speaker for Vanderbilt Business' 2024 Commencement.

Maria Renz

Growing up as the daughter of a bookkeeper and an engineer, Maria Renz always associated business with accounting and crunching numbers, which did not sound enticing to her. She earned her undergraduate degree in design and began her career working as a project manager for a large headquarters renovation in Philadelphia, PA. In that role, Renz was assigned a project that completely changed her perspective about business. She was tasked with interviewing everyone at all levels of the company—from the security guard to the CEO—and determining what their space needs were and how they interacted with the other departments. 

“By doing that, I got a better understanding of what business was,” Renz explained. “I could see the roles of the different departments and how the teams were coming together to create value for their customers. That really captured my imagination and led to me wanting to pursue business school.”

Furthering Her Education

In the Fall of 1994, Renz began her journey of pursuing an MBA at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. She points to the quality of education and tight-knit Vanderbilt Business community that attracted her to the program.

“There weren’t many MBA students with a design background, so it was a little bit intimidating to apply and interview, but I felt very welcomed and like I would be supported during that transition period of my life,” she says. 

Renz was instantly drawn to marketing while in the MBA program, “I was really fascinated with how all of this energy and work that happens within an organization was then translated to value—what is the value we offer to consumers.” 

To combine her passion with a skillset she wanted to sharpen, Renz ultimately decided to pick up both a marketing and finance concentration while in the MBA program. 

Maria Renz Jump-Starts a Career in Product Management

After earning her MBA in 1996, Renz jump-started her career in product management through a leadership program with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, MO. After a little less than 2 years with the company, she moved on to work for Kraft Foods in New York in a consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand management position. In that role, she worked on kids’ cereals, including Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles. 

“I am fascinated by consumer behavior,” Renz explains. “When I’m in an airport I am always looking at what brands of shoes people are wearing. Details like that make me think about the insights into what customers are looking for and how, in my case, we can use technology to bring something to life.”

A 20-year Run with Amazon

After working with Kraft Foods for almost 2 years, Maria Renz took a product manager role in the marketing department at Amazon in Seattle, WA.

“I was in the marketing department (at Amazon) for 2 years, but I realized that with CPG you are really a general business manager where you represent marketing as a function at the table with all of the other functions, whereas, in a single brand company like Amazon, marketing is more similar to a staff role.”

Renz spent the next 12 years of her career working in various roles on the retail side of Amazon. Some of her greatest achievements while working with the e-commerce giant include launching and scaling several Amazon retail categories, being named CEO of an Amazon subsidiary company called, and making history serving as the first female technical advisor to Founder, Executive Chairman, and former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. 

“Working alongside Jeff Bezos definitely made me realize that I was representing more than myself and that I was hopefully opening a path for many others across the organization to be in a similar role,” she says.

In the last few years of her more than 20-year career with Amazon, Renz worked in operations running 4 different business entities, leading directly and indirectly a team of roughly 80,000 employees. In that role, Renz was also a part of the team that created the 1-day Prime shipping program.

Maria Renz Reflects on Her Career Journey

After 2 decades with Amazon, Maria Renz was ready for her next adventure. In March of 2020, she left the company and began working as the Executive Vice President of Money, Invest, and Credit Card for SoFi, an American online personal finance company. After 2 years with that company, she briefly worked for a startup called Gopuff in Philadelphia, PA, when she got a call from Google where she currently serves as the VP of Commerce. 

Renz joined Google right at the time when technology began shifting to the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI). She notes that Google is positioned “incredibly well” to see how AI could revolutionize shopping and payments, so she was eager to jump in and lead a team through such a monumental transformation.

“I consider myself a builder,” Renz says. “Business is all about growth, newness, and change, and I think you have to lean in and be an optimist about the future.”

Renz shares that one of her favorite characteristics about technology is the instant feedback you can receive from consumers, “You can launch something today and immediately know via reviews and social media what that feedback is. So technology for me is this great playground to build new exciting things—it gives you a whole new toolset, and I think AI is just a new toolset to help solve problems for consumers.”

When looking at where she started and where her career journey has taken her, Renz says it all feels a bit “surreal.” While even she sometimes struggles with imposter syndrome, Renz says she is proud to be able to look back over her career thus far and point to the ways she has impacted the world of business and helped those around her achieve some of their career aspirations. 

“If you take the time to understand what gets you up out of bed in the morning, and then over time in your career try to make choices that get you closest to spending the most amount of time doing that thing you love, then it doesn’t feel like work… If you do that long enough over time, I think it’s amazing the places you can go and now that’s the fun for me looking back and saying ‘Wow, I didn’t expect this is where I would end up, but I’m grateful to be here’.” Maria Renz is set to speak at the Vanderbilt Business Commencement ceremony on May 10, 2024, where she will share more insight into her career journey and hone Vanderbilt’s Dare to Grow initiative.

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