Army vet runs massive Amazon center in Aurora

Joe Dudek, graduated from the military academy in 2003 and went on to serve five years of active duty with stops commissioned Korea and Iraq. This year, after close to a decade working for Amazon, he was tapped as general manager of the new Aurora facility

Joe Dudek poses for a portrait outside of the Amazon fulfillment center, Nov. 7, where he is the general manager. Portrait by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

Joe Dudek poses for a portrait outside of the Amazon fulfillment center, Nov. 7, where he is the general manager. Portrait by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | As the massive new Amazon fulfillment center near Aurora’s far eastern edge gears up for its first holiday rush, it does so with a West Point graduate and Army veteran at the helm.

Joe Dudek, graduated from the military academy in 2003 and went on to serve five years of active duty with stops commissioned Korea and Iraq. This year, after close to a decade working for Amazon, he was tapped as general manager of the new Aurora facility.

This Saturday, Nov. 11, is Veteran’s Day

While running things at the massive fulfillment center — where he oversees about a thousand employees and a constant stream of packages passing through — is obviously different from leading a platoon or working with field artillery, Dudek said there are some obvious parallels.

“There are a lot of times when we might not have all the time or data to make a decision,  and we have to go with our best intuition,” he said. “Which is largely what we do in the military.”

Being able to apply the complex problem-solving skills he developed in the military is part of what drew Dudek to the online retail giant about a decade ago when he neared the end of his military service.

Dudek said he wanted to use those skills and go to work for a company that was growing. At the time, which was not long after the economy tanked in 2008, there weren’t many companies that were growing.

But Amazon was.

He said he also liked that he could move up through the ranks based on his skill set, not based on the rigid timeline that often dictates promotions in the military.

With the holidays approaching, the already-busy center is gearing up for an especially busy few months.

Dudek said there is always lots of excitement leading up to the holidays at Amazon, but some pressure, too.

“We deliver Christmas or the holidays for entire families,” he said.

Just how busy the center is as of now isn’t clear. Ashley Robinson, a spokeswoman for the company, said Amazon didn’t have data it could release regarding just how many packages pass through the Aurora center. But, she said the facility likely processes tens of thousands of orders a week and the numbers jump “significantly” around the holidays.

Dudek said this holiday season will be unique because it will be the Aurora facility’s first.

“This is all new for the majority of us here in the building,” he said.

City officials praised the Amazon center last year when news of its coming to Aurora broke, saying it is a sign that big-name companies are increasingly looking at Aurora when they need distribution and warehouse space.

The center is one of several distribution centers along the Interstate 70 corridor announced in recent years, along with another Amazon facility and a planned Walmart facility.

Aurora city council this year unanimously approved a resolution granting up to $1.18 million in tax breaks for Amazon to build the project. The agreement formalizes a deal city officials made with Amazon in previous closed-door talks.

According to the city, the new Amazon facility will generate about $130 million in investments and the thousand or so employees who work at the site will earn an average salary of about $30,000, plus benefits.

The Amazon center is expected to generate about $6.5 million in taxes in the coming decade. Without the $1.1 million rebate, the city will still receive about $5.4 million in taxes from the company.