Product Management :: Product Marketing

17 July, 2017

From Product Manager to CEO

We know that the Product Manager is sometimes labelled the CEO of the Product. It's not the best definition, in my opinion, but I have become interested in the similarities between the role of the Product Manager and that of the CEO.

Warning: As one of the founders of the Cambridge Product Management Network, I'd love to find a speaker on this topic!

What's the difference?
Gregg Johnson was a Product Manager for 10 years and moved to Product Marketing at Salesforce and then joined Invoca as CEO. He comments that "product management is a great training ground for becoming a CEO. The very nature of the PM role requires building the skills you need to be a successful executive" in this article Want to Be a Great CEO? Be a Great Product Manager First.

Here's a summary of his reasoning:
  1. Create a compelling vision for your teams and company
  2. Make the hard investment decisions.
  3. Navigate between the 30-day and three-year levels.
I can summarise (1) & (3) as translation  - translation based on your audience: your conversation to a developer is different to that with a sales guy, which is different to that with a customer or a partner.

But even each one of those conversations has a time consideration: if you're talking to customer in pre-sales, then you want to discuss the business benefits of your current solution. If you're inviting an existing customer to participate in your beta programme, then you'll be laying your vision for the future and how your product in beta is an important building block for the future.

McKinsey in this article Product managers for the digital world list  Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and Marissa Mayer as product managers and are now CEO to Google, Microsoft and (recently departed) Yahoo!
What’s more, product management is emerging as the new training ground for future tech CEOs.
McKinsey  reports that there are 3 types of 'mini-CEO' product managers in Silicon Valley:

  1. Technologist
  2. Generalist
  3. Business-orientated
McKinsey insightfully states:
Any critic of the analogy between product managers and CEOs will point out that product managers lack direct profit-and-loss responsibilities and armies of direct reports, so it is critical for product managers with ambitions for the C-suite to move into general management to broaden their experience.
Generally true!

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