What’s next for General Managers?

I’ve been asked by a couple dozen young analysts (some still in school, others 1–3 years into their career) for career advice over the past few months. I’ve met these folks at school (undergrad and B-school), at work, and at conferences. Given how many times I’ve give this speech, I figured the rest of the world might find some value in it as well.

What is the question?

There has been so much change within the financial services industry with a larger and larger influence on product management. FinTech startups seem to exclusively hire for them (not entirely true, we’ll get to that), and larger corporations need them to help lead organizations where engineering is increasingly important. Naturally, people are asking: “What does this look like for me?”

Essentially, there are 4 options for any analyst entering the world of consumer financial services:

1) Marketing analysis — This covers a broad variety of work: creative design, campaign construction, marketing analysis, SEO, etc. Whichever piece of the pie you feel passionately about, there is always a need for people who know how to acquire customers. Even better, this need exists for a variety of companies: established companies and startups, all types of industries, and at all levels of employment from entry level to C-suite.

2) Credit analysis — the ability to price credit is of paramount importance for banks, but it’s increasingly becoming the focus of FinTechs as well. Green Sky, Kabbage, SoFi, Prosper and others have built their Unicorn status by identifying “mis-priced” segments and then building a model which more accurately determines the risk. The ability to either build models, or build the analytical structure to allow for consistent credit analysis is a major asset across company types: established companies and startups, and across employment levels.

3) Product management — this is clearly a growth area, and everyone these days seems to enjoy calling themselves a product manager. What I’m referring to is a group of folks who work with engineers, designers, researchers, and analysts to prioritize product development, and shepherd it to the finish line*.

*(A quick detour: it’s important to differentiate between front-end product managers, and platform/back-end product managers. Front-end guys get all the attention for developing user facing features, and many of the job postings you see focus on this area. However, back-end product managers create products with scale. The ability to do both is critical if you want to be long-term successful in the PM game.)

The great thing about being a PM is that it’s in huge demand right now by everyone, in nearly every industry, and at nearly every level. There are lots of reasons NOT to be a product manager (click, click, click), but in a world that’s increasingly driven by software, the ability to lead technology development is critical for professional advancement.

4) General management — getting back to what inspired me to write this article. Spare me a moment for an inelegant metaphor. You’re on General Manager Mountain (GMM), climbing as fast as you can. You’ve made it to Middle Manager base camp, and you reflect on climate change, and start worrying about the Technology Ice Caps (TIC). They’re melting, and raising sea levels all around GMM. And, boy, it sure seems like the TIC is melting faster and faster, and tech is becoming a requirement at the entry level roles. So the calculus is this: do you leave base camp and resume climbing GMM as fast as possible to avoid drowning in the TIC waters? Or do you build a boat and ride the wave up GMM? This is the choice facing most GMs at a non-executive level (at least, outside of the consulting industry).

Now, of course, I could be totally wrong! Maybe the pendulum will swing back and GMs will be the hot job in the 2020 decade…

…but the evidence doesn’t seem to support that, at least right now.

Disagree? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear your thoughts.