This Is the Job That Best Prepares You for CEO Success Best training ground for the C-suite isn't glamorous, just crucial.

By Joel Trammell

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

John Lamb | Getty Images

Many paths lead to the CEO chair, but one individual role best prepares people to be a CEO -- product manager. This job is a great training ground for chief executives, at least in technology companies. In fact, it's arguably the single most important individual contributor position in the company.

Similar to the CEO, the product manager's primary function is to coordinate among various groups, leveraging the skills of others to produce a great product. This is in contrast to most individual contributor roles, where the focus is on doing some specialized skill, working largely alone or within a small group.

Related: The 4 Traits Every Good Project Manager Needs

To come up with great products and services, the product manager assesses the needs of customers and the market. This involves a strategic approach by analyzing competitors and anticipating what could be on the horizon. It also requires a tactical element by working with different groups to execute on the plan.

On any given day, the product manager is coordinating with executives to sell a product vision, with R&D to create viable products, with marketing to promote those products and with sales to explain product capabilities and benefits as well as obtain feedback.

CEO Barak Eilam credits his time as a product manager for best preparing him for the job. He became CEO of $1.3 billion company NICE three years ago after working for the company for 15 years. "For me actually the most important part of my career at NICE was when I became a young product manager," the first-time CEO said. "Product management in a tech company, if you are positioned at the right place, is a very interesting junction. Because if you do it well, it allows you to be the bridge between customers and their requirements and market needs and R&D."

Related: 13 Characteristics of Successful Hustlers

Eilam had worked in R&D at NICE, so he had the experience to interact with that group well. "It takes special skills to make the transition from R&D to product management and become the liaison between customers and R&D," Eilam said. "Obviously there are other things you need to be a CEO, such as finance, general management, managing people, managing managers, etc. These are all important as well, but this was pivotal for me, and I'm talking about something that happened for me 15 years ago."

The parallels between a good product manager and CEO are many. For example, the CEO is always working with multiple stakeholders to deliver a product -- high company performance. Like the product manager, the CEO must understand the entire market landscape as well as what is happening across the organization. With this insight, he or she creates a vision, a strategy and a plan.

Then, the CEO must communicate all this clearly and compellingly to get buy-in from everyone involved. He or she also ensures that everyone executes according to plan. At the same time, the CEO must be looking forward to identify threats or opportunities and pivot the company accordingly.

Related: How to Grow Managers into Leaders Through CEO Transparency

The CEO job is unique in many ways, but anyone who wants a taste of the responsibilities should consider becoming a product manager.

Wavy Line
Joel Trammell

Veteran CEO; CEO, Black Box; Founder, Khorus

Joel Trammell is CEO of Black Box, which provides IT infrastructure services, and the founder of CEO software company Khorus. He is also the author of the The CEO Tightrope.

Editor's Pick

A Father Decided to Change When He Was in Prison on His Son's Birthday. Now His Nonprofit Helps Formerly Incarcerated Applicants Land 6-Figure Jobs.
A Teen Turned His Roblox Side Hustle Into a Multimillion-Dollar Company — Now He's Working With Karlie Kloss and Elton John
3 Mundane Tasks You Should Automate to Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff
The Next Time Someone Intimidates You, Here's What You Should Do
5 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health and Regulate Your Nervous System for Sustainable Success

Related Topics

Business News

After Being Told They Could Work From Home Forever, Employees Made Major Life Changes. Then, a New CEO Ordered Them Back to the Office.

Farmers Group CEO Raul Vargas is facing backlash for the change, but he says being in the office brings more "collaboration" and "innovation."

Business Ideas

The 13 Best Jobs for People With ADHD

Want to find the perfect profession as a person with ADHD? Check out this review of the best jobs for people with ADHD if you need ideas.

Business News

Hedge Fund Pays NYC Interns $20,000 a Month on Average, Sent to Lavish Palm Beach Kickoff

Citadel is known for its over-the-top parties and company retreats.

Growing a Business

The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting

All too often, meetings run longer than they should and fail to keep attendees engaged. Here's how to run a meeting the right way.


Working Remote? These Are the Biggest Dos and Don'ts of Video Conferencing

As more and more businesses go remote, these are ways to be more effective and efficient on conference calls.