Ellenore Angelidis, ’94, has had eleven different jobs since she graduated from the Law School. “I describe my career as nonlinear,” she said. “My husband puts it differently. He says I’m a change junkie.”
While six of those positions were at one company, Amazon, they were different enough to fairly be considered distinct jobs, including serving as assistant general counsel at corporate headquarters, companywide director of competitive strategy and negotiation, European Union legal director, and the first-ever global head of diversity programs.
She went to Amazon from Sears, where she had started as a litigator and then shifted to the commercial side to take on responsibilities related to strategic sourcing. Before Sears, she worked after graduation for four years at Baker & McKenzie, where she was one of a few women in a sixty-person litigation practice. “It seemed like there could be a partnership path for me at the firm, and I liked the work well enough, but I was ready for a different challenge,” she said. “When I get at all comfortable, I find the next thing.”
When she accepted her first job at Amazon, in 2005, it meant moving to Seattle, and her husband couldn’t relocate for almost a year because of job commitments, so she and their two young boys went without him. “I thought it would be manageable because, after all, Amazon was similar to Sears but much smaller—Amazon’s revenues that year were about one-sixth of Sears’s,” she said. “Then on my first day someone from the gourmet foods division asked me whether it was legal to sell lion meat. I then realized this was going to be a whole new kind of challenging—but also fun.”
When she shifted from her primarily legal role in the general counsel’s office to become the company’s director of competitive strategy and negotiation, she built a new team that identified and developed methods, training, and strategies for worldwide vendor negotiations. A few years later she was off to Luxembourg as European Union legal director, and then to Paris to serve as French legal director amid crucial challenges prompted by French legislation that could have been damaging to Amazon. “I didn’t speak much French, but as a team we got the job done,” she recalled.
When she left Amazon in 2018, she formed a consulting and training company, L.E.A.D. (Lead Empower Activate Dream), to impart what she has learned to corporate and nonprofit leaders.
L.E.A.D. has not been her only focus. During her time at Amazon, she and her husband adopted their daughter Leyla, a six-month-old born in Ethiopia. Early in her life, Leyla recognized the inequity between her life in the United States and the lives of children in her birth country. “We talked about how many Ethiopians don’t get the chance to learn to read—at that time, about sixty percent of adults lacked basic literacy skills—and she said to me, ‘That’s not fair, mommy; you have to fix it,’” Angelidis recalled.
So, she set out to do that, eventually creating and running the nonprofit Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund [OHBD] to bring culturally appropriate books to Ethiopian children and improve literacy. More than 160 colorful, award-winning bilingual books, in twenty local and global languages, have been created, printed in Ethiopia, and widely distributed globally, making OHBD the largest publisher of bilingual African stories in African languages. A popular title is The Runaway Injera, an Ethiopian version of the Gingerbread Man. Technological literacy is another focus area: the organization provides extended training and “boot camps” for Ethiopian girls on programming, computer science, and entrepreneurship. Angelidis and her daughter have coauthored several books and traveled the globe together to support the nonprofit’s cause.
“My time at the Law School was foundational,” Angelidis said. “Besides the incomparable legal training, what thrilled me were the habits of mind that were expected of us, including perpetual curiosity about what’s possible in any situation, nonstop learning from everyone and everything around you, and a trust in yourself that says you can be a person who helps make valuable new things happen. The Law School didn’t make me a change junkie, but it did make me a better one.”