Is PM the fastest way to tech GM/CEO positions?

I’m looking for some guidance from the experts here. I’ve spent about eight years in PM and PMM roles as a senior product manager. In a mid- to large-sized B2B tech company, I want to be the general manager with complete P&L accountability before rising to the position of CEO. Is product management still the best way to accomplish these objectives? Given their greater outbound and vertical emphasis, do any other job functions (product marketing, strategy, business development) offer a quicker path?


I’d say absolutely yes. If someone is providing examples to the contrary are seriously ignoring the fact that the post of PM has only recently become more widely accepted; in the past, it was more of a niche position. it has also improved the team’s visibility of the product people.

Although it largely depends on the type of organization you work for, you can monitor the likelihood based on the role that drives organizational growth. You can expect that a business will favor someone with a sales history if it believes that investing in the sales staff will lead to growth. If a business places a focus on the product when making decisions, that is a strong indication that a PM could eventually become the CEO.

I do think that as the world changes more and more, the percentage of CEOs with a background in products will rise.


No. a sales position of some kind, usually as a sales director.

Others - I’ve seen both senior Strategy and senior Finance take up these jobs, but it usually occurs in a turnaround scenario; “right the ship” and frequently on an interim basis.

Product: Occasionally, but not often. My ex-boss, a senior sector leader and product director, and a friend who is a CEO both had outstanding EQ and “presence” in addition to being quite intelligent.


As you rise up, it’s one of the most reliable ways to get there. I would venture to say that the CEOs of the majority of product-led tech firms were promoted through the product. However, there are also people in GTM, Finance, Strategy & Ops, etc. who succeed.


While product management can be a valuable path to executive roles in the tech industry, it is not the only path, and the most efficient route may vary depending on individual circumstances. While product management provides a strong foundation for understanding customers, market dynamics, and product strategy, other roles such as product marketing, strategy, and business development can also offer valuable experiences and skill sets that are relevant to executive positions.

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Product Management: Product management provides a comprehensive understanding of customers, products, and market dynamics. It involves managing product development, strategy, and execution. This role can give you a well-rounded perspective on the business and build a strong foundation for leadership positions.
  2. Product Marketing: Product marketing focuses on bringing products to market, positioning them effectively, and driving customer adoption. This role often requires a deep understanding of the market, competitors, and customer needs. It can provide valuable experience in developing go-to-market strategies, messaging, and sales enablement, which are crucial for executive roles.
  3. Strategy: Roles in strategy involve analyzing market trends, competitive landscapes, and making strategic decisions to drive business growth. Strategy roles often involve working closely with senior leadership, evaluating market opportunities, and developing long-term plans. Gaining experience in strategy can provide a broader business perspective and a deep understanding of how companies operate.
  4. Business Development: Business development focuses on identifying and pursuing new business opportunities, partnerships, and acquisitions. This role requires strong negotiation and relationship-building skills, as well as an ability to identify growth opportunities and drive strategic initiatives. Experience in business development can help you develop a broad network and gain exposure to high-level decision-making processes.

Ultimately, the path to executive roles can vary for each individual. It’s essential to consider your own strengths, interests, and long-term career goals. Developing a diverse skill set and gaining cross-functional experience can be beneficial, as it allows you to understand different aspects of the business and make informed decisions as a leader. Networking, continuous learning, and taking on new challenges can also contribute to your professional growth and increase your chances of reaching your desired executive positions.


No. Product is just a function like any other company. The only place it will give you leverage is at a SaaS Product company and even then - others with strong leadership skill will make their way to CEO. Your best bet is to build your own business. Your second best bet is to build a wickedly high influence network.

I’m a PM at a F500 and I can tell you that your accomplishment is only a partial ingredient to executive roles - let alone CEOs which sit for 5-10 years at a time.

Respectfully I think you’re approaching your goal in an unrealistic manner and should spend the next 2 years just learning the backgrounds of those who are CEOs. You’ll find they seldom climb the ranks in a traditional manner.

Also the tech companies of the next 10-15 years will probably not be run by product managers like we see now.


@KaneMorgan could you please provide some more details. I agree that the majority of CEOs advance through unconventional means, but I’ve also seen a number of CEOs with backgrounds in product management.


@EvaRichardson, Yes, and you’ll discover that many have expertise in tech, engineering, and consulting as well. Please consider my comment in its whole. A function like any other is called a product. It doesn’t help you advance to the position of CEO, at least not over another position. Your greatest options are still to launch your own business or join an elite network. Finally, during the next 20 years, technology will be in data and cutting-edge sciences. If you want to run a tech company in 15 years, prepare yourself for it.


I appreciate you sharing! You mentioned that product managers are unlikely to control IT companies in 10 to 15 years. Which roles, in your opinion, will flow the most into CEO positions?

I don’t have to learn product management, and my goal is to master everything in order to become a CEO. I’m also interested in starting up in a few years.


You’re correct that there are CEOs who have backgrounds in product management. Many successful CEOs come from diverse backgrounds and have different paths to leadership roles. Product management can indeed be a stepping stone to executive positions, particularly in the tech industry where a deep understanding of products, customers, and market dynamics is highly valued.

Here are a few reasons why product management experience can be beneficial for aspiring CEOs:

  1. Customer and market focus: Product management emphasizes understanding customer needs, market trends, and competitive landscapes. CEOs who have a product management background often bring a customer-centric mindset to their leadership roles. They can leverage their experience to align business strategies with market demands and customer preferences.
  2. Cross-functional collaboration: Product managers work closely with various teams, including engineering, marketing, sales, and operations. This cross-functional exposure helps them develop strong collaboration and communication skills, which are essential for CEOs who need to work with diverse stakeholders and lead cross-functional teams.
  3. Strategic thinking: Product managers are responsible for defining and executing product strategies. This involves setting long-term goals, making strategic decisions, and prioritizing initiatives. CEOs with product management experience often have a strategic mindset and can apply their skills to drive overall business growth and guide the organization’s direction.
  4. Business acumen: Product managers develop a deep understanding of the business by analyzing market trends, evaluating competitive landscapes, and assessing financial implications. This business acumen is valuable for CEOs who need to make critical decisions, manage budgets, drive revenue growth, and ensure the company’s financial health.

While product management can provide a strong foundation for aspiring CEOs, it’s important to note that there are other paths to executive roles as well. The key is to continue developing leadership skills, gaining diverse experiences, and expanding your network within the industry. Additionally, being open to learning from different functions, such as marketing, strategy, or business development, can further enhance your qualifications and increase your chances of reaching your goal of becoming a CEO.


I’m going to defy the trend and say that sure, it is a good path, but with the huge qualification that it depends on your organizational structure and executive team. I have firsthand knowledge of this and have witnessed others doing it. It can be a useful stepping stone in high-growth organizations when the (lead) PMs are given minimal P&L responsibility and effectively serve as GMs as well.

One thing is certain, though: if you want to follow that trajectory, all of the product’s components that are unrelated to controlling the software development process are crucial. such as market knowledge, unit economics, price, sales and pitching, and growth and capital restrictions.

If you’re going for a CPO role (one that sits on the BOD and is not in charge of a unit), cadence and product strategy are crucial, but not essential for a GM position.

And for those who are saying, “This is impossible when you’re stuck in the weeds,” I can assure you that one of the qualifications for any executive post is the ability to pull oneself out of the weeds.

It is not the most effective route, clearly. It’s probably private equity/consulting men with backgrounds in finance who join and get operational knowledge. Sales are also true, but this is particularly so for B-2-B enterprises.


What evidence supports your assertion that the path to CEO is through the PM?


@HannahBorges, You can check the CVs of the CEOs and General Managers at the top tech companies. Founders who were either product-focused or who excelled in product leadership.


@KaranTrivedi, In a similar vein, I can check the backgrounds of CEOs at many of these prosperous companies, and this might not be the case.

You can see that only one CEO who rose to the position from product management by taking a fast glance at FAANG.


Ok dear, check this out:

Alphabet = product (Sundar Pichai)

Apple = ops (Tim Cook)

Meta = product-focused founder (the Zuck)

Netflix = product (Greg Peters)

Amazon = product - founded and led AWS (Andy Jasey)

Microsoft = product (Satya Nadella)

Uber = v short product stint building USA Networks’ streaming service in '99-'00, finance / strategy otherwise (Dara Khosrowshahi)

LinkedIn = product (Ryan Rolslansky)

Airbnb = design and product-focused founder (Brian Chesky)

Snap = design and product-focused founder (Evan Spiegel)

DoorDash = product-background founder (Tony Xu)

Coinbase = product-background founder (Brian Armstrong)

Roblox = eng and product-focused founder (David Baszucki)

Dropbox = product-focused founder (Drew Houston)

Snowflake = product (Frank Slootman)

Slack = product-background founder (Stewart Butterfield)

Datadog = eng (Olivier Pomel)

Splunk = eng → product @ HP (Gary Steele)

PayPal = sales → product @ AT&T (Dan Schumann)


Every CEO, under your broad definition, will be product-oriented. It should come as no surprise that tech businesses prioritize their products.

Here, we’re discussing CEOs who started off in the product industry. To mention a few:

  • Zuck is a founder and he built the product
  • Satya started as engineer and grew the ranks
  • Netflix has Ted Sarandos as Co-CEO and was managing content before
  • Amazon’s Andy Jassy was responsible for marketing

@HannahBorges, Starting in some other job and going into Product is the most common route - that’s not a counter argument.


Did you establish the business? No? Did your dad establish the business? No? If you were born in America, did you complete your undergraduate studies in engineering at Stanford and your MBA at Wharton? No? If you are Indian, did you complete your undergraduate studies at IIT and your MBA at Stanford? No? So, regrettably, you won’t be the CEO.

It’s not a good idea to become a P&L owner when you’re a PM, especially if you’re a non-PM org leader (e.g., have 25+ people rolling up into you). Enter operations or FP&A.


I’m not sure why you recommend FP&A or Operations because I don’t see people from those positions moving into P&L ownership responsibilities; at most, these people might assist in managing the P&L.

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Your field really isn’t going to matter. It’s everything else. There’s a very large gap between GM and CEO though, and if you were on a CEO track, you’d know, it wouldn’t be a mystery.

An understanding of Product or having worked in product is definitely a bonus. But usually CEO role goes to Strategy/Sales lead followed by Marketing/Ops/Finance.

First step is set a goal. Keep up the hard work, don’t listen to the haters. I’m sure you’ll be happy wherever you land.