Billy Knapp (MBA '16)

Military Program Manager, Community Engagement
NYU Stern Program: Full-time MBA Program
Company: Amazon

A Naval Academy graduate and nine-year veteran of the Marine Corps, Billy Knapp (MBA ‘16) has carried his military legacy through to his civilian life and career, including serving as co-president of the Military Veterans Club during his second year at Stern. Now, he has found his niche at Amazon as a military program manager, building community engagement to support the company’s efforts to hire veterans around the country.

Billy Knapp headshot

Tell us about your career path, from the Marine Corps to business school.

After graduating from the Naval Academy in 2005, I was commissioned into the Marine Corps where I spent nine years in a few roles and then applied to business school. Applying to business school was never part of the plan, but spending nine years in the Marine Corps wasn’t either, I was just fortunate enough to work on some great teams that were tackling fun and unique challenges. When I was transitioning out of the military, a close friend from my unit was serving as the co-president of the Military Veterans Club at Stern. I asked him for his advice and he guided me along, and it just made more and more sense as I looked into it. I had a great opportunity to learn a lot of soft skills and leadership in the Marine Corps, but knew that I would need to bolster my business skills if I wanted to be as successful in my civilian career. 

How did you find the transition from active military duty to Stern? How was your experience with the military veteran community at the school?

Having been out of college for 13 years, it did take a little getting used to being back in the classroom. That said, I did find the transition to school pretty easy. I did Summer Start, which was a fantastic way to ease back into civilian life and an educational setting. Being from New York originally, I was near my family, friends, and then-girlfriend (now wife), so I had great support mechanisms in place.

How did you choose Amazon for your next career move, and what has your experience been like so far at the company?

I took a lot of retail classes at Stern and was very interested in working for a brand in the sportswear/outdoor industries. My job search was fairly non-traditional, so it was a bit more difficult than expected, but towards the end of my second year I was able to connect with someone in my network about a position on his Outdoor Recreation team at Amazon. This opportunity gave me the chance to work in the outdoor industry while being able to learn and grow at the world’s best retailer. In terms of my experiences at Amazon since joining, my career path has been similar to my non-traditional career search. Rather than sticking with a retail-focused track, I have transitioned into various Learning and Development and Talent Acquisition roles. 

I feel extremely fortunate to have landed at a company that encourages its employees to move around and learn new skills. For a lot of transitioning veterans, we may not be as certain about our careers as some of our classmates who have been in the civilian workforce. I often joke that I’m only four years into my career, even though I’m 36 years old. It’s been a lot of trying different things, getting as much experience as possible, and figuring out quickly what’s the right fit for me. 

What does your current role entail, and what does it mean to you as a military veteran to have this position at such a large company?

I am part of our workforce staffing team, so it’s a high-volume hiring team. We are hiring hundreds of thousands of people in North America for our hourly, temporary, and seasonal positions. I will be responsible for building community engagement strategies around military hiring. We have a goal for hiring a certain number of veterans, and my goal is to support our field teams in those efforts. I’ve always been interested in helping other veterans with their transitions, whether it was supporting our admissions team at Stern or creating a new military hiring and training program for Amazon’s retail organization. This is something I’ve always done on the side, so it’s been very rewarding to be able to put my full passion into my daily work. I’m excited to come to work every day, knowing the work has special purpose. Serving in the Marines was a distinct honor and to be able to replicate that sense of purpose in my civilian career is a blessing.

What advice do you have for fellow alumni, either military veterans specifically or the broader alumni community?

I challenge my fellow alumni who are in hiring and management positions to think about talent pools outside their traditional sources, including veterans and other populations. Most organizations get caught up in looking for candidates who fit their “profile” exactly, but if you are looking to grow quickly, it may be helpful to think outside the box. Veterans can bring a lot of experience that can be valuable to any type of organization. I challenge everyone to balance a candidate’s “lack of experience” with their capacity to learn and execute. Candidates should not be penalized on their lack of opportunities in the past, but evaluated on their ability to do the work in the future. 

How do you stay connected to Stern as an alumnus?

Being at Stern was two of the best years of my life. Many of my classmates have become lifelong friends, and I really enjoyed working with the administration, including Dean Henry, Diana Hyde, Beth Briggs and so many other people. Whenever people from Stern come into town, I try to get involved. I just saw a trek that came through with the new Tech MBA program, and I help out with the Veterans Club whenever I can. 

What’s your favorite Stern memory?

Outside of Summer Start, my favorite Stern memory would have to be co-creating the community club with my close friend Isha Vij. We noticed that MBA1s and MBA2s don’t necessarily have a lot of opportunities to meet outside of a few classes and treks, so we created a club that encouraged people from all classes to partake in really fun local activities that weren’t cost-prohibitive. Whether it was visiting One World Trade Center, getting a tour of Grand Central Station, or ice-skating at Bryant Park, we wanted to facilitate easy ways to connect.