Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Daniela Ornelas, Vice President Product Management at Wabtec Corporation
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series, I interviewed Daniela Ornelas, Vice President of Product Management at Wabtec Corporation. To read the entire series on Women in Product Management make sure to sign up for our newsletter.
How did you get into product management?
My background is in electrical engineering. I got my MBA in automation, and I’ve been at Wabtec for 19 years. The key connections I have as a product manager are that I like to deal with customers – I love being close to customers and understanding their needs – and I like technology. I love to make new things happen. I wanted to connect customers’ needs with technology to develop something that makes a difference. Transportation inspires me. It’s a business with a lot of growth and we have a lot to improve, and that’s why I’ve been with this company for so long now. I started in sales, then moved into service. The company was investing in leadership, preparing leaders to assume a larger role. I did several leadership trainings to run a P&L, and I got into product management in 2013.
Any lessons learned along the way?
I work with real people, not machines. A key learning is that we need the people we work with to succeed, then the company and everybody else succeeds. We have to have the right people in the right spot to make sure we can achieve what is needed for the business and for our people. If you don’t have the right people in the right spot, you will not succeed at all, not as a team or as a company.
If you don’t care about the people, then you’re not going to execute anything. People need to be engaged. They have to work with purpose. If you don’t have a purpose, you can’t meet your goals. In a product manager role, you need to link the purpose of the customer, the purpose of the business, and the purpose of the company to create the right product or solution. People and purpose must be connected.
What do you like most about product management?
I like to build or create something that is impossible. When people think getting a product ready will be so difficult, a nightmare, a big challenge, that excites me. It will be possible. I like to create something that people don’t think is possible. I say, yes, it is possible. This is all linked to the customer. My life is connecting the customer and the people on the team to create the impossible.
What do you find the most challenging about Product Management?
The challenge is to really understand the main problem or pain point from the customer and transform that into a real product or solution. To do that, you need to spend time listening to the customer. Specifically listen to understand the customer’s CTQ which means “critical to quality.” When a product manager thinks they have the right solution already, and they want to sell that to the customer, it may not solve the problem. Instead, listen to the customer clearly to understand if the product fits, or if you need to develop something new. The challenge is to listen carefully and understand the customer, then transform that to real product solutions for their business.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
When I’m considering the skills for a product manager I think of a pyramid. The base needs to be technology. Product managers need to love technology and want to learn more and get ahead with technology. As you move to the top of the pyramid you need to have connection with customers, be truly customer focused, and be strategic. Product managers are one of the most strategic roles in a business.
The challenge for us is to get more women involved. I am the only woman in product management here. I find women are not usually thinking about the product manager role. Usually, they go into engineering if they like technology, or they go into leadership if they are more administrative. I would love to see more women in product management.
What advice would you give women going into product management?
Women either come from the commercial side or the technical side. Usually, they are split between those two. My challenge is to find women who want to work with engineering and the customer. My advice is to seek an experience where you can try both. If you are an engineer, try to get close and listen to the customer. For women on the commercial side, try going deeper with technology. Try to understand how you create products. Understand the challenge of making something real and connect the dots. You can make the leap and change things. Think of all the things product managers played a role in changing. It’s very exciting. And it’s not just a role for men.
Any guiding motto?
Make sure you have a purpose. I am a very energetic and happy person. I love what I do. Sometimes it’s tough, but I like the impossible. I love what I do because I love to work with people. I love to work with customers. I put all my energy into being positive. If you’re not happy doing what you like, and if you don’t have a purpose, then you won’t be able to move on.
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About the Author
Nicole Tieche is a Client Relations Specialist at 280 Group.
Nicole was born and raised in Michigan; she received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan in French and Creative Writing. After Nicole spent time studying and traveling through Europe, she moved out to California and discovered advertising was a great way to use her creative skills. Not as a writer, but as an Account Executive. Nicole is most creative in how she works with people: building relationships with clients and teammates, learning about them, and supporting them – even in ways they didn’t know they needed.