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Career Story: Vice President Of Business Strategy At A Large IT Software Company

Vice President Of Business Strategy At A Large IT Software Company

Job Title: Vice President, Business Unit Strategy

Education: BA, Mathematical Economics, Brown University •• Advanced Management Program, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

Previous Experience: My first job out of college was as Research Analyst at economic consulting firm focusing on antitrust and patent infringement work. My next job, held only briefly, was as an economist in a research department at a publishing company. I followed this with a year and half as a senior analyst at a market research firm, focusing on the management software market. This position provided a great platform for my next job as a product marketing manager at one of the software companies I was researching.

I remained at the software company for nearly ten years, rising to Vice President, until we were acquired by a much larger firm. I have now been at the large software company for three years.

In the software business, I have held the following positions:

Product Marketing Manager Director of Product Marketing Vice President of Product Marketing Vice President of Business Development Vice President of Corporate Development Vice President of Product Management Vice President of Business Unit Strategy

Job Tasks: I work at a 15,000-person software company in an operational group supporting the 5000-person research and development organization. The software company writes and sells IT management software globally. Our product lines includes over 400 different products across a wide range of IT market segments -- everything from network management software to project management software to mainframe systems optimization software.

The research and development organization at my company is broken into about 12 business units and one operations team. The operations team includes a variety of development services functions: documentation, localization, offshore development teams, testing lab services, program management, and the process design and metrics group. This is the team that I manage.

The process design and metrics group consists of about 20 professionals, typically with backgrounds in program management, product management, or product marketing. Our job is to design and implement a company wide transformation program focused around rebuilding the complete product lifecycle management process. The product lifecycle management process encompasses all aspects of product portfolio management, business planning, investment decision-making for individual development projects, new product development, program management of the development process, beta management, launch and go-to-market planning and execution, releasing a product to market, and monitoring the performance of products in market. Our lifecycle process includes a complete metrics program for measurement and monitoring of the entire program.

A typical day consists of designing and testing new processes, e.g., a new method to have sales people review a new product forecast developed by a product manager; or staging review meetings for new product investments for the company's executive leadership team. I spend a lot of time helping business unit teams prepare presentations for the executive leadership team. We do a substantial amount of data collection, synthesis and preparation of executive reports on product release calendars, product development status updates. Generally, we are either designing and building new processes or reporting vehicles, nearly all of which are designed to improve management operations. Last year we focuses primarily at the executive leadership level, where this year we are focusing more on middle management.

As a manager, I also spend a significant time organizing my team's workload, prioritizing projects, assisting my team members at critical junctures in their work, conducting performance reviews, and of course staying closely connected to my boss (read as: getting more work) who manages the entire operations team.

I travel frequently from a large remote office in Massachusetts to company headquarters in New York, probably averaging two days a week.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The most exciting part of my job is that I am at the center of a company-wide transformation effort at a $4B software company. We are rebuilding the place from the inside out and I firmly believe we'll have a radically better company as we move through the transformation. It is genuinely exciting.

However, in my operational strategy role, I am nearly 100% internally focused, and do not spend any time with customers and the market place generally. I am unable to exercise my true passion of product strategy, i.e., what should we build next, what does the world want to buy? I made the decision to focus on operations over product/market strategy because strategy without the ability to execute just isn't much fun.

The most difficult parts of the job have to do with the relentlessness of the workload, the intense demands of senior executives, and ensuring that my team is always productively engaged - but this is what I am paid for :)

Job Tips: I think it is very important for folks to develop a deep expertise in a specific market / product. I got to know a specific market as market researcher and then built deep expertise in a product at a software company. The specific knowledge of one area is valuable in its own right as plenty of careers are made around one product/market, but equally valuable is to get a in-depth understanding of what one needs to know to make a software product successful in the market.

I always say, "you've got to go deep once". If you never go deep on a product, you will often find yourself at a disadvantage to your colleagues. Even if I don't know another product or market at all, the act of having known a product and market so intimately allows me to understand the challenges others face and to apply my knowledge and experience constructively.

There is often an appeal (particularly to those earlier in their career) for pure strategy, planning or research roles. While these are a great place to start (as I did), moving into a line job where you are responsible for something customers buy (e.g., product management) is an absolutely invaluable experience. With that background, you can move back to strategy and planning and be very effective.

And the second piece of advice is much more simple: make sure everything you deliver is of the highest quality ... make your spreadsheets accurate, thorough and organized; make your presentations clear and concise; make your emails crisp and clear; always let your logic come through in your work ... managers and executives need clear and logical thinkers who can make and support their positions effectively.

When work is loose, ill-prepared, illogical, cumbersome, verbose it wastes time, doesn't get the job done and hurts your credibility.

Additional Thoughts: Early in your career, try to get into a growing company. Growth equals opportunity. My promotions came to a halt when our growth stopped (tech melt down).

Also, try to find honest and decent people. If you work hard for them, they will reward you fairly. They are hard to pinpoint and too often comes down to luck.

I am a big fan of sticking with a company rather than job hopping. It always looks better somewhere else and rarely is. When I see a resume where someone stuck with a job, earned a promotion (or more) while at one company, rather than interviewing into a promotion at another company, I know I have a winner.

In my experience, I really had to give myself over to my job and dedicate a colossal amount of time, especially in the earlier years. My personal advice is to do this before you have kids because when they show up, you might lose a few moves as I did.

And lastly, always be honest and straightforward with people. Playing people or "the system" always comes back to get you.

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