Yes, Product Managers Can be CEOs If They Put Their Minds to It!

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Amit Somani,
Managing Partner
Prime Venture Partners

Great companies are built on great products.

Elon Musk

An Introduction 

The fifth day of The Product & Leadership Festival 2021 was insightful. The webinar’s discussion was “Product Manager as a CEO- To be or not to be?” Though it was conducted on a Saturday evening, the webinar pulled in a large audience from multiple platforms. 

The webinar’s moderator was Sai Satish Vedam, Executive Coach & Senior faculty, IPL. He also worked as the Senior Director Product Manager at Oracle. 

With his 25 years of experience providing testimony for his knowledge on this topic, the esteemed guest of the webinar was Mr. Amit Somani. He is the Managing Partner at Prime Venture Partner, an early-stage VC firm. Mr. Somani completed his Bachelor’s in Computer Science from IIT and later got his Master’s Degree from Wisconsin University. His in-depth product and technology knowledge comes from working for industry giants such as Google, IBM, and MakeMyTrip. 

The Skillsets

When it comes to understanding the top qualities of a CEO, there are a few things that come to mind. These include:

Being people-centric

  • Confident
  • A culture builder
  • An empath  
  • A visionary

For Product Managers, the traits are quite different and include: 

  • Creativity
  • Communication skills
  • The ability to prioritize
  • Acumen for Product  

What Makes Product Managers Different from CEOs? 

Mr. Somani showed a presentation highlighting CEOs’ and PMs’ roles, shared traits, and differences. 

When talking about a Product Manager’s role, Mr.Somani quipped, “They are like an orchestra’s conductors. They are responsible for developing a great product and understanding the requirements of the consumers. They are all about getting things done.”  

Talking about CEOs’ roles, he stated, “these high-performing individuals have to be good with numbers and should also have the ability to look at the whole picture, zoomed in or out.” 

While highlighting points that differentiate individuals in these roles, Mr.Somani said, “A CEO should lead by authority whereas a Product Manager should lead by influence. In execution, a CEO is all about delegation and a Product Manager, collaboration. If a CEO is focused on ensuring smooth cash flow, a Product Manager ensures to generate revenue.” 

Talking about the common traits, Mr.Somani said, “Both CEOs and Product Managers should know how to allocate resources for each problem faced. While excellent decision-making and communication skills are common to both, they should know how to manage a complex ecosystem that exists within an organization.” 

Product Managers Becoming CEOs 

Mr.Somani went on to say that a CEO’s business acumen and a Product Manager’s insight of a product are what allows an organization to develop strategies that solve customer issues. 

While drawing examples of Product Managers who rose to the position of a CEO like Sundar Pichai (Google), Stewart Butterfield (Slack), and Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), he quoted, “In the next ten years, more Product Managers and people from the technical background will become CEOs. With massive technological advancements taking place worldwide, a Product Manager with in-depth knowledge of the products can help the company grow.” 

As Mr.Somani concluded his presentation, a question and answer session was conducted for the audience. As questions came pouring in, Mr.Somani ended the session by advising the attendees, most from product backgrounds, to adapt, learn, and upskill. While to be or not to be is beyond a single definition, ultimately, it is one’s ambition. If you thrive to be, you will be. 

You can watch the entire webinar here – 

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