Is the new CEO a Chief Product Manager?

If you can be a product manager, you can acquire the experience of acting as a CEO. The skills gained in product roadmapping, prioritizing tasks, interoffice communications, customer understanding, and product marketing are absolute necessities for being an effective enterprise lead.
Mark Pincus(video on Product Management as CEO Training), CEO and Founder of Zynga,

Is the new successful Hi-Tech CEO actually a chief product manager?

While this may be an over simplistic view, I do believe we are seeing a trend in the industry.

Google recently decided to appoint its president of products as the new CEO. Steve Jobs is known to design Apple’s product features down to the smallest detail. But maybe he is just a Chief Product Manager ?

Looking at ten leading CEOs background, this might be a a sign of a new trend.

Company Name Previous Title Formal Education
1 Apple Steve Jobs GM Macintosh Division None
2 Google Larry Page President Products Ms. in Computer Sc.
3 NetFlix Reed Hastings CTO Ms. in Computer Sc.
4 Oracle Larry Ellison ? None
5 Twitter Dick Costolo Group Product Manager BSc Computer Sc.
6 Microsoft Steve Ballmer Assistant product manager (P&G) BA in Math and Economics
7 VMWARE Paul Maritz VP  of the Platform Strategy and Developer Group Math and Computer Sc.
8 Cisco John Chambers Senior VP,Worldwide Sales and Operations MBA
9 NetApp Tom Georgens VP Product Operations MBA and Computer Sc.
10 DataDomain Frank Slootman Senior VP of Products(Borland) Economics

In the past, CEOs came from a legal or a financial background. Later on they came from a scientific or engineering technical background.

Promoting the sales executive was  the key trend in the 90’s and in many more modern organizations the marketing leaders were “moved” upward.

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

Image via Wikipedia

But some of the 20th century reasoning and basic  assumptions are no longer valid, at least in the technology sector.

Lets assume that the new tech and consumer markets are frictionless and all information is publicly available.

As a result we can observe that:

  • Sales people are less important  since products are sold directly of the web and personal relationships are less relevant
  • Finance is less critical as the standard financing options are pretty well understood and commoditized
  • Marketing is still important, but traditional outbound “tricks are less important. The “Gartner” marketing that does not say anything about the product, is much less effective. Product marketing, pricing  and daily analytics are much more critical. If everyone loves your product, marketing is easy, channel management is easy and awareness is easy. Nowadays the customers can try the product immediately and they are the ones who create most content about it.
  • Technical innovation is still relevant, but in many cases the big companies are not the ones inventing algorithms or new chips. Ask yourself who invented the iPAD battery,GPS or screen or compass and what’s their stock quote.

In these markets, the best product has a good chance to win everything. There are plenty of examples how a great product makes the rest of the company functions much easier and successful. Of course, there is no first degree in “Product management” and a strong technological  is definitely an advantage. However, it does seem that great product leaders, are able to drive few of the most successful  companies in the world (even, in some cases,  with a lack of great people skills:) ).


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One Response to “Is the new CEO a Chief Product Manager?”

  1. Do I have the skills and talents for Product Management or Marketing? | Black Book Ninja Says:

    […] Is the new CEO a Chief Product Manager? ( […]

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