Story to Success
The secrets to success for a career in Product Management with Maria Crocker
Parity Consulting together with Women in Product Melbourne hosted a complimentary breakfast event as part of their “Story to Success” series featuring leading Product professional, Maria Crocker, Head of Product at Bank Australia. She spoke about the secrets to her success in Product Management, highlighting her challenges and the ways she overcame them. Maria has had an extensive career in Product, having started her career in the legal field before making her way into Product in 2009 and recently taking on the huge role of Head of Product at Bank Australia’s headquarters based in Kew, Melbourne.
“Work for a company that works for you” – Maria admits that it took her a while to work this out. Not only will you need to work out how it is that you work best but you will need to find the fit that is right for you. How does the company you work for or want to work for think of innovation, and does it allow the entrepreneurial spirit to flow through? These things essentially need to add up in order for you to find success in your career. Maria spoke through the main lessons she learnt through these very principles.
Maria bid farewell to her legal career and made a move into Product. 6 months into her new role as a Product Manager, she couldn’t believe how awesome the job was. She was able to listen to the issues her clients were having and work towards finding ways to actually solve them. Maria believes that Product Management is becoming to be known as a discipline. As the competition is fierce, she has continued to work to ensure that she is able to bring something to the table that no other candidate can.
For Maria, her background was in litigation and helping companies understand the method of distribution. When a company says she cannot do something, she will not that take as the full decision. Being a product manager, Maria says she is curious and wants to constantly trial things.
But is this enough of a difference? There are a number of new and emerging thoughts on how to devise products around human centre design and learning more about this would be a great differentiator. Maria believes that she brings a competency to an organisation that they have not seen before.
Maria was then asked what she feels differentiates her to another candidate and what is different. She said that role models and mentors are very important to her. She was recently appointed to a board for a reinsurance company and she says the exposure and the new learnings she is taking from the experience has been amazing. She can’t recommend enough for more women to be on boards. What Maria has found is that a lot of companies have a number of similar people on a board. Her advice was to look at what the emerging trends were, for example design and technology experience.
Maria says that it is one thing to manage a product, but it is another skill set altogether to hire for product. She states she has made great hires in the past but also admits that she has made some not so great hires. Success is getting people to collaborate and not only do they need to understand the requirements of the products, but you also need to understand how that person works and what they are yet to learn. Is technical talk in their language? How flexible is their approach? How do they manage relationships? Do they have a high EQ? We think about what these questions will look like and when we are serious about a candidate, we like to see how they respond.
Maria goes on to state she was pregnant at a huge part of her career where she was awarded FSC Young Professional of the Year. She was working long hours and when she took parental leave, she told her team that she would be back in six months. She admits she had no idea of what was ahead! Maria had a baby that refused to sleep and she said that it was the hardest 6 months of her life. She ended up going back to work early, working from home at 11 weeks, and fully back at work at the 6 month mark. She admits she wanted to advance her career and wanted to own her own products, but what she didn’t do was speak to her family about the decisions she was making. She felt that she didn’t have the permission to ask for a job share, and was left an unhappy mother with an unhappy child.
When it came to her second child, Maria was very clear about where she stood and made a decision that she would not work past 5:30. Just because you are not at a desk, does not necessarily mean you are not working.
As product managers, Maria believes we need to lose our ego when developing products. Maria spoke of a time her team and herself went on a huge journey to launch a particular product to market and when they eventually did, they found that they only had 16 people who wanted to buy it. Maria admits that they didn’t check in with the end customer in regards to what they wanted and it ended up being a big loss to them and their team. She learnt early on in her Product career that every idea was a good idea, as long as you had the evidence to back it up. Ensure the product is in line with what the customer wants or is asking for.
Maria states that moving into financials was big necessity to understanding all the elements. They use a lot of acronyms and much of the time, the information isn’t digestible. This was daunting at first and although she didn’t want to ask the stupid questions, she saw that once she started to uncover those unknowns, she wasn’t the only one in the room.
She wanted to leverage people in her network that had a great skill set of taking really complex material and making it digestible. So she took her account out for lunch to ask him these questions. He helped her understand the things she needed to know in order to make the right decision for her product.
In retrospect, Maria sees that her career often looks like a squiggly line as opposed to a clean path but now knows that the path she took has been right for her as it has got her to where she is today. She stresses that you do not have to worry if you have to go sideways to take the next position, as long as you feel there is a potential for growth and learning in taking that step.
She reminds her audience to always remember to trust yourself and then to back yourself. Having those tough conversations and asking for what you want is necessary in your career. She feels she is testament that once you start doing this, opportunities will start to come along.
Q: When the chips are down, what strategies do you use?
Maria surrounds herself with people who are true to her purpose. She also has a great network of people who help her navigate her through the workforce and teach her strategies on how to deal with certain situations and challenges. She believes she has great mentors.
Q: How did you identify your mentors?
Maria says that she knew she wanted someone who was in finance who understood that language and then to get their advice on her career and whether the choices she was making were the right steps for her.
She suggested that most people were open to being taken for a coffee and sharing insights and being a part of your success. Don’t be afraid to ask! She admits finding someone in finance was hard and she says a chartered accountant helped her to understand the financials that were important to her.
Q: Have you ever asked someone to be a mentor or for their assistance and they did not want to?
Maria says she was set on working in Asia and she wanted to work in Hong Kong, so she found a potential person and asked if they could connect over the phone but felt it was very forced and it just didn’t work out. She felt the person was very militant about what they could discuss and what she would assist with. With any mentoring situation, if there is no chemistry or the fit just does not seem right, it will most likely not work out.
Maria finished the session by circling back to advise that in terms of succession, think about where you want to be in five years, differentiate yourself from others, don’t feel afraid to take small steps to get to where you need to be and get connected and get involved – help each other.
For all those that attended on the day, we trust that you left with new insights and answers to some of your burning questions. A big thank you to Women in Product Melbourne and to Maria Crocker for taking the time out of her busy schedule to sit down with us and speak about both her challenges and successes in her career.
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