Product Management In Chemicals
On the job learning required
This last weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about product management and what makes a successful product manager in industries where chemicals and materials are the products. The product manager is arguably the most important position within a modern company. These people have their finger on the pulse of the market, communicate up to the executive team and across the organization, and guide the technical teams. It’s strange that one person should hold so much responsibility within a company, but it makes sense when you organize a company around the products that are sold.
Product managers are the chief executive officers of their products. They often coordinate and facilitate the collaboration of other product teams and often function as a project manager when that role is not formally filled. Product managers are often responsible for helping to set pricing and understand costing of products as well as technically competent enough to know the difficulty of what is being asked of the technical team. Product success and failure is often hung on the product managers.
When I think about the best product managers I’ve worked with they have always combined technical knowledge, project management, and the ability to win the trust of internal stakeholders and customers. I think the best product managers somehow see the whole picture through all of the different lenses of the functions within a company. They know the challenges that the other departments face and they can anticipate those challenges.
I think the best way to get a product manager is to guide a scientist or engineer down this path of gradually taking on more and more responsibilities of marketing and talking with customers. As a scientist you might be doing a lot, such as developing the product, testing it, helping to scale it up, developing the new quality tests to be run, and taking it out to the customers to trial it. A scientist already sees the technical portion of the picture and just needs some training on how to see the commercial side. I think this is somewhat of the non-traditional route for a product manager to take, but in my experience it is the best.
Alternatively, the technical can be taught to a business school graduate and seems to be the traditional route that most companies would like to be followed. I’m not saying that this is wrong, but I believe it is more difficult to find a product manager willing to spend their time in chemicals when they could go anywhere else. How many Harvard or Stanford MBA graduates want to go into the chemical industry?
I think it’s easier to teach a scientist or engineer the business side than it is to teach a business person the science or engineering. Granted, you need to find a suitable person to do that, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but once you do then hold on to them for as long as possible.
Hey, you made it to the end. This one was a bit shorter than normal. That’s how it goes I guess. This 2x a week publishing cadence is intense. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up, but doing shorter things like this feels right and sustainable. This sort of end note that I’m writing here is fun too. I can just kinda write down in the margin at the bottom of the page.
I recently finished watching The Bear, which takes place in a kitchen, and it reminded me of my experience of being in graduate school. This part in particular for me at least:
And I got the shit kicked outta me. And I separated herbs and I shucked oysters and clams and uni. And I cut myself, and I got garlic and onions and peppers in my fingernails and in my eyes, and my skin was dry and oily at the same time. I had calluses on my fingers from the knives, and my stomach was fսckеd, and it was... everything. And a couple years later, this funny thing happened which is like... for the first time in my life I-I started to find this, uh, this station for myself. And I was fast. I wasn't afraid. And it was clear, and I-I felt... I felt okay, you know. I knew which vegetables went together, proteins, temperature, sauces, all that shit. And when somebody new came into the restaurant to stage, I'd look at them like they were competition, like I'm gonna smoke this mοthеr fսckеr. I felt like I could speak through the food, like I could communicate through creativity.
And the more he wouldn't respond, and the more our relationship... kinda strained, the deeper into this I went and the better I got. And the more people I cut out, the quieter my life got. And the routine of the kitchen was so... consistent and exacting and busy and hard and alive, and I lost track of time and he died
I think it’s easy in graduate school to go deep in the lab. To lose yourself to the work and the quiet and the hum of the instruments in the background. Working early on Saturday because no one else is there. I definitely did it for awhile and I pulled out after a year. Just, don’t lose track of time in there and don’t work alone. It’s not safe.