What does a product manager do? In short, they identify a customer need and the business objectives that a product or feature will meet. They define what success looks like for each product and they rally their team to turn that vision into a reality.
Back in 2020, Jonathan Marsh was hearing rave reviews from friends about PEAK6. One former coworker, Marc Drake, had the challenge of building a PEAK6 product management group from the ground up. “There was a wide portfolio of fun projects. It was very appealing,” says Jonathan.
The Unconventional Journey to Product Management
Jonathan has had an untraditional path in his education and career. He received his degree in finance at the University of Michigan Dearborn (U of M). “My educational path was interesting. I ended up at U of M but didn’t start there. I started school at Grand Valley State University and worked at Verizon in order to get their generous tuition reimbursement. Cell phones were at the boom, and I was making tons of money.” Jonathan was able to use this to continue his education and transfer to U of M, even after an illness that stole vision in his right eye.
After college, Jonathan moved into an operations path at Cars.com in Chicago, eventually moving into an Operations Business Analyst role. It’s here where he met Marc Drake, who would become the Director of Product Management at PEAK6. From there, Jonathan transitioned to become a business analyst at an IT company and eventually product management for a dental company.
There Will Be Failures. Turn Them Into Success.
Jonathan took the plunge to PEAK6, working primarily with InsurTech, as a Product Manager. “The most fulfilling part is to empower others to be creative,” explains Jonathan. “I work with the team to really understand what the product problem is and how we can create unique solutions. The beauty is that when you truly understand the problem, you can better understand a solution. Then we can empower the team to create added value with efficient amounts of work.” And it’s that empowerment that really drives Jonathan each day.
Jonathan has learned in business that a product manager’s job is frequently to turn what appears to be a failure into a success. “Where will you fail today? Can we minimize failure and build progress out of it? This makes it easier,” says Jonathan. “One of our engineers, Nate Johnson, said to me, ‘It’s not to make things easier; it’s to do hard better.’ This sums up our work perfectly, as temporary setbacks are never considered a defeat.” And that’s what our product managers are charged with: solutions can be complicated; solutions can be hard. The question becomes, what can we do better?
Advice for Product Managers
Jonathan easily reflects on his early working days. What does he wish he had understood earlier? “Speak up. There’s an interesting burden, especially as a person of color, in the tech space: you can’t mess up. You cannot fail because you’ll never succeed. I avoided speaking up.” As Jonathan moved through his career, he wasn’t speaking up enough. He thought he had to have the solution, not just define the problem. “The solution exposes itself if you define the right problem,” Jonathan learned. “It’s an ongoing process. Knowing when to seek help and speak up.”
Jonathan realized not everyone thinks in this problem-centric way. To get them there, he helps his team realize they will start off on different levels. “You may have to humble yourself and confess your understanding. Ask more questions about how to move forward. It’s tough with tight deadlines and you have to keep track of roadmaps,” says Jonathan. “The most important part of my role is to give someone enough information so they’re prepared to present an idea and be successful.”
Jonathan didn’t get here alone. “I really need to give a shoutout to Marc Drake. He’s been my manager since my Cars.com days and he’s provided so much guidance. Also, to Kari Sunderland and Danny Rosenthal, who have been so impactful in collaborating well together. My acceleration is a result of National Flood Services. We may not have achieved everything, but they set the baseline.”
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