In the 1930s long before product management became the celebrated profession it is today, existed a rookie manager responsible for advertising a soap at Procter & Gamble (P&G).
His name was Neil McElroy. He had just graduated from Harvard with a Bachelors in Economics and joined P&G’s advertising department, where he was responsible for advertising one of the soaps in P&G’s product mix.
Dismayed by the fact that the soap that he was responsible for (the product) did not command the same consumer success (think high NPS scores) that other P&G soaps enjoyed, he wrote an 800 words memo to the executives at P&G calling for the creation of the role of the “Brand Men” (🤷♀️🤦♀️women!?)– a role for managing each product separately from the overall marketing and advertising of the company. He believed that each product was unique and its brand should be dealt with individually. In the memo, he outlined a set of responsibilities for the ‘Brand Men’- from tracking sales to managing the product’s advertising and promotions.
Snapshot of McElroy’s memo to P&G outlining the role of the “Brand Men” (link)
That memo, which he had written as a young junior executive, became the foundation for brand management among all consumer product companies and ultimately, as we learnt, the cornerstone for the product management role which technology companies hold so dearly today.
💯Destined for greatness, McElroy later became the president of P&G in 1948 and in October 1957, less than a week after the Soviets had launched the Sputnik, he became the Defence Secretary under the Eisenhower administration and helped found NASA. Also as an advisor at Stanford, he advised two men, whom you might have heard of, Bill Hewlett and David Packard.
In fact, in the book, The HP Way, which is a favourite among all PMs today, the ‘Brand Men ethos’ is credited for HP’s 50-year track record of growing 20% y-o-y between 1943-1993. 👀
We’ve come a long way since.
The composition of the Fortune 500 companies has shifted in favour of the technology industry vis-à-vis FMCG companies that used to dominate earlier. In parallel, the major product has also changed from being an FMCG one to one enabled by technology.
With that, the role of the product manager has also evolved. A PM today needs to understand not just management frameworks, many rooted in the philosophies outlined by people like McElroy, but also the technology built by the great minds of our generation. They need to be able to not just glue all the pieces of engineering together but also go out and sell it. It’s truly a fascinating and diverse role, one that elicits many a well paying jobs in the competitive technological landscape.
🔑Inspired by the likes of McElroy, over the next few days, we would be bringing you a series of conversations with the best and most accomplished Product Managers in India and the world along with some additional insights.
In these conversations, we would dive deep into the strategies they adopted, what skills they took on board over the course of building their careers and how they adapted to the rapidly changing+ harshly competitive technology ecosystem to build the most successful and respected companies of our times. It is likely to be a truly educative and inspirational experience.
🔥Our first conversation, releasing next Monday, will be with Sidu Ponappa, who is now the SVP of GoJek (the Indonesian decacorn, based out of Singapore). Sidu, with an extremely lean team of engineers, led the hypergrowth phase of Gojek and scaled it from about 4,000 daily deliveries to 1 million daily completed orders. In the episode he talks about his journey, his style as a product manager (oh such cool management gyaan!) and shares with us what makes a Super-App.
We also bring in some friends to the show, and in this episode we’re excited to welcome Ma Zhengyuan (a.k.a Zheng) who was previously a Computer Science and Math undergrad at Stanford and presently works as a data scientist, also in Singapore.
We are excited to talk more about products and collect learnings from the best ones out there. Join us over the next few days here on the Turnaround newsletter and on the Use Case podcast.
If you have any friends who would enjoy reading this or listening to the upcoming series on products - feel free to forward them this email. Spread the word! ❤️