Uncover the Path to Chief Product Officer (CPO)

Posts, The Path to CPO


By Rashmi Ramesh, Director of Product Management

Imagine being in a room full of highly accomplished women executives. Suddenly, you realize you’re granted the opportunity to ask difficult and personal questions regarding their career progression. 

I was fortunate to avail such an opportunity, but it was not by chance.

Listen to our new podcast The Path to CPO

There are countless resources available through books, online courses, podcasts, and blogs for women looking to break into product management. Through mentorship and coaching, individuals begin to progress into mid-career and senior level positions. 

After reaching this level, advancement almost slows down with limited resources available to assist the leap to become a Chief Product Officer. There is also a dichotomy at play: not only are the resources and access to such information for a larger audience limited, but the hiring process for such positions is often a black box. 

Feeling uneasy about the lack of resources available to advance to the CPO level, I was determined to take action and address the issue. I’ve always aspired to be in an executive position in product. I wanted to gain insights into the path to a CPO, including their pivots, choices, and their approach for advancing their careers, to inform my own career planning.

I was almost certain that I was not alone in seeking this type of information. 

Over the course of years, I’ve realized the power of being a part of a community, whether I’m engaging with customers, expanding my professional networks, or knowledge sharing. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to gain career advancement insights through community, while also actively contributing and giving back to the same community.

As a Women In Product community member, I have attended their conferences and over time I have observed their impact across the 30K+ women and non-binary individuals. I also noticed various conversations in forums where many senior women wanted to take this leap to a CPO position but didn’t know how. This further convinced me that I needed to find a solution to this problem by partnering with Women In Product.

I came up with a proposal to interview 8-10 CPO’s. WIP had then launched the Women In Product Podcast across various topics, I knew it would be a great medium to showcase the journeys and pivots of CPOs. I did not expect to be an interviewer though! I then came up with an initial list of questions covering areas such as their break into product management, preparation to be a CPO, responsibilities of a CPO etc. I even crowdsourced some of the questions from the WIP community. Beyond the interviews, my hope was to share insights and learnings with my community.

With this idea in mind, I am thrilled to be launching “The Path to CPO” podcast series on February 8 with Women In Product.

The interviews I conducted had a consistent set of questions so that I could glean major themes. There were learnings that re-validated my beliefs. For instance, I was reminded of the importance of being intensely curious, taking advantage of diverse opportunities, and the emphasis and significance of building strong product teams. 

I also had several enlightening moments during these conversations, and below are my favorites. 

1. When does a company hire a CPO vs VP of Product?

After graduating from Wharton, I began delving into the startup ecosystem, exploring companies across all stages of growth. Through the interviews I conducted for the podcast with the CPOs, I gained a clear and comprehensive understanding of when a startup should hire a VP of product versus a CPO. During my conversation with various companies, I was able to better evaluate the leadership team and assess the potential impact of my contributions.

2. How does one undergo a mindset change from being an executionist to setting a multi-year vision?

As you will learn from the interviews, a CPO plays a more strategic role in setting a multi-year vision for the company along with the leadership team and executing on it. While this may seem very straightforward, many senior women struggle to make the transition from a VP of Product to a CPO.

3. How do you translate your experiences to seek new opportunities?

As one seeks to explore new opportunities, either in terms of function or domain or both, it is essential to evaluate if the move represents a step back, forward or lateral move. The timing for such changes becomes very crucial. Through the interviews with CPOs, one will gain a good understanding of the changes that the women underwent and the common threads connecting those experiences which ultimately led them to be a CPO.

4. Does being a CPO come with a sacrifice?

Being a woman often involves juggling multiple roles, such as daughter, spouse, sister, or mother. Many of us struggle to find a good work-life balance at different points in our careers. The conversations with these CPOs provided a new perspective on how to approach this challenge.

I was personally blown away by each and every conversation with these women leaders delving into the unique challenges they faced in their climb to the top. I have a better understanding on how to reach the executive level, and I feel confident about my next steps. I hope our audience experiences the same. 

While it took hours of research, planning, outreach and conversations, these interviews will serve as a valuable source of information that help more women and non-binary folks succeed in executive product positions. I am excited to share “The Path to CPO” podcast with my WIP community!  

The Path to CPO is a 14-episode series that interviews female-identifying CPOs 

When we conducted our study “The state of Women In Product Management: A Blueprint for Equity” the data told us that 60% of women seek promotion to leadership, but 68% of women see the career path as unclear.

This podcast shines a light on some of the talented women Chief Product Officers working today. It offers insight into the path they each took to Chief Product Officer, how CPO differs from VP Product (Management), how these individuals made that transition, and what are keys to success in the role.

The series is now available on SpotifyApple Music, and Anchor

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About the author

Rashmi Ramesh

Rashmi is a senior woman in product. She has held leadership positions in product across large companies and startups in the enterprise space. Most recently, she completed her MBA from Wharton.
Fun fact about Rashmi: “I consider myself a foodie and avail any opportunity to try new cuisines, and I am an expert in vegetarianizing (I invented this) any food.”