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Former head of Amazon Business takes a top job at Boxed, a start-up selling household goods in bulk

Key Points
  • Prentis Wilson, who led Amazon Business’s growth to $10 billion in annual sales volume, is joining Boxed as the company’s first president.
  • Wilson is the highest-profile hire for Boxed, an online wholesale retailer last valued at roughly $600 million, according to PitchBook.
  • Wilson tells CNBC he was particularly impressed by Boxed’s depth of talent and growth potential.
Prentis Wilson
Boxed

After building Amazon's business marketplace to $10 billion in annual sales volume, Prentis Wilson is headed to the start-up world.

Wilson, who spent almost eight years at Amazon and before that worked at Cisco and Honeywell, is joining Boxed as the company's first president, CNBC has learned. Boxed sells snacks, household goods and office products in bulk, promising most deliveries within two days.

His unexpected departure, reported last month by GeekWire, marks the latest in a string of high-profile exits at Amazon by executives taking senior roles at younger, high-growth companies. Greg Greeley, former head of Amazon Prime, went to Airbnb last year, while former senior vice president of the marketplace, Sebastian Gunningham, became vice chairman at WeWork. In January, Amazon's lost vice president of consumer engagement, Chee Chew, to Twilio, where he took on the role of chief product officer.

In Wilson's resignation email in May, which CNBC viewed, he said he's inspired looking back at his team's work, as it "accomplished what many said could not be done." Amazon Business sells large quantities of office and workplace products to companies in sectors including health care, hospitality, technology and construction.

At Boxed, Wilson will be in charge of operations, fulfillment and marketing, reporting directly to CEO Chieh Huang, who said he plans to spend less time on the day-to-day management so he can focus more on the company's long-term strategy. Boxed, which was valued at roughly $600 million, according to Pitchbook, is at the point where it needs industry expertise to take on Amazon as well as traditional retailing giants like Costco and Walmart.

In an interview with CNBC, Wilson said he was lured by the prospects of the business after meeting with Huang.

"The business that Boxed has built has a really long runway," Wilson said. "It's certainly carved out a specific focus that's hard to replicate."

Chieh Huang

Founded by Huang and three others in 2013, Boxed has raised $243 million in funding, including a $111 million financing round in August. The company has been the subject of acquisition rumors, and reportedly rejected Kroger's $400 million purchase offer last year, while holding preliminary talks with Amazon, Target and Costco, according to Bloomberg.

Huang said he jumped on the first flight from New York to Seattle when he learned Wilson was willing to meet to discuss a potential position at Boxed.

"It's rare to find proven executive talent that knows how to operate an e-commerce business at scale," Huang said.

After Wilson left Amazon in June, John Witham, vice president of Hardlines, temporarily took over his role. Alexandre Gagnon, a 15-year Amazon veteran who most recently led Amazon Canada and Mexico, is the new vice president of Amazon Business, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Wilson told CNBC it was "super hard" to leave Amazon Business because he grew it from scratch, writing the initial concept and hiring the team's first employee. The division grew into a $10 billion business in just three years. He sees a similar trajectory for Boxed.

Amazon Business "is a rocket ship," he said. "But we can do the same thing here."

WATCH: Boxed raises $111 million in latest funding round

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Boxed raises $111 million in latest funding round