Why product managers can make great CEOs

Publication: Business Today
November 11, 2021

In recent years, we’ve witnessed product management professionals rising to C-suite levels across the globe. A McKinsey report stated that product management is emerging as the new training ground for future tech CEOs.

It is no wonder that Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Sundar Pichai of Google, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, and Susan Wojcicki of YouTube were product managers before they progressed in their careers to become CEOs of global tech majors. The product manager role has a perfect combination of hard and soft skills that prepare one to emerge as an industry leader. A CEO from a product management background can see the bigger picture, has defined objectives, easily understands the problems, and empathises with people. Some even view product management as a stepping-stone to the C-suite. Let’s examine how this transition happens.

Many hats at a time

A product manager is a jack of all trades. They are involved throughout the product life cycle that enables them to understand various aspects of a business. From business development to marketing to technological expertise, they don different hats during the product development stage. At every step of the way, product managers gain many skills – communication, interpersonal, leadership, problem solving, sales, marketing, and more. All these make them the perfect fit for top jobs.

Data-driven decisions

As guardians of products, product management professionals gather data from clients, analyse it, and effectively communicate them to respective teams and leaders. Data is used to drive decisions about resource allocation, marketing strategy, troubleshooting, release timelines, and other processes. Today, most decisions in organisations are taken based on data, and top leaders are expected to have a data-driven outlook. Data skills will ease the journey of a product manager to a CXO post.

An inspiring collaborator

Product managers translate the technical perspectives to business and vice versa. They represent the company in client meetings, represent the customer in the product development huddles, and communicate the requirements and progress to each stakeholder from time-to-time. Conducting customer interviews and user testing, performing market assessments, preparing roadmaps, coordinating with development teams, and providing feedback are the core competencies of a product manager. Continuous collaboration and synergy is needed between diverse teams each step of the way. By motivating everyone in the project, product management professionals try to deliver the best outcome on time. It is similar to the role of an executive leader, who influences and motivates their people for the company’s growth.

Customer-centric approach

As stated above, product managers represent the end-user in the development process. Like CEOs, product managers focus on customer needs, revenue, and the development team. With data and feedback, they find a big picture of the end user’s life and the potential significance of their product on customers’ daily life. The growing influence of design thinking principles in product development underlines the importance of the customer-centric approach and its role in business growth. With hands-on experience in this approach, a product manager can prosper in an executive leadership position.

In sum, product managers play a crucial role in product development and acquire the right skills that will help them flourish in their career and ascend to the CEO post. Though the experience and skills vary from industry to industry, the core competencies remain the same. A dynamic talent in product management will have a quick career progression in any industry. The onus remains on professionals to showcase their agility and skills at the appropriate time and find the path to success.

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