Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Marilyn McDonald, Sr. Vice President, Customer Interoperability at Mastercard

A profile picture of Marilyn McDonald who is the senior vice president of the Mastercard company.

For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series, I interviewed Marilyn McDonald, Sr. Vice President, Customer Interoperability at Mastercard. View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.

How did you get into product management?

I went to college for mechanical engineering, but I dropped out my last semester and spent five years traveling abroad. You become a really good observer of people as you travel, especially with how people interact with the world around them. Eventually, I started my career in Marketing, which is all about creating messaging to get people to buy your product or want a lifestyle.

I learned about the Voice of the Customer and how to influence behavior. I built my first product with a foreign exchange business. Our customers really wanted to get their money faster. A wire transfer is one solution, but we pulled back to the problem and realized we could give people instant access to their margin account if we gave them a prepaid debit card. A customer in Greece could access their margin account in the U.S. in minutes. That was the first instance of understanding a customer problem deeply enough to develop a product. Marketing is the act of influencing people using triggers. Product is the act of solving those same problems by building solutions, which is more near and dear to my heart.

What do you like most about product management?

The thing that makes me happiest is that at the end of the day, I will have solved real problems for real humans. The products are faster, or there are fewer steps in the process, or there is a new tangible product. I am solving problems in the real world for people.

Any missteps along the way, any lessons learned?

You’re never going to be right all the time. I spent the early days of my career convinced I was right, which is typical of younger Product Management professionals. Embrace the scientific method. Do crazy things. Then find out through experimentation if you’re right or wrong. True innovation starts when you suspend disbelief and then test to see if you’re right.

When you’re hiring, what are you typically looking for?

My passion is building inclusive, diverse teams to solve problems. I believe when you want to build a product, your employee base must look like your customers.

I also look for three key attributes: One, can you be completely customer-obsessed? How do you ground yourself in a user and use that to inform your decisions? Two, can you work without a lot of structure in ambiguity? Product Managers are sent into problem spaces and you’re going to have to figure it out. Three, can you get stuff done?

What advice do you give women who are thinking about going into product management?

First, apply for the job. You don’t have to be 100% qualified. You may not have had the title before, but if you have the skills, don’t think because you haven’t done it, you don’t get to do it.

Second, years ago I found a group of like-minded women around my organization. We made a safe space and a commitment to each other when we’re having a hard time being heard at the table. These women are still some of my best friends today. Encourage other women to speak up, and advocate for each other.

Any motto or saying that you live by?

I always say, “Lift as you climb.”

The biggest impact is when I help the people who are with me on this journey. This is not a game where there’s limited space at the top. As leaders in your organization, help give your peers space to speak and grow.

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View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.

About the Author

Mira Wooten
Director of Solutions

Mira (she introduces herself as half of a Mira-cle) is your 280 Group concierge. She helps clients navigate our training and consulting solutions, and also oversees our contingent-search recruiting practice. As a certified life and systems coach, Mira is great at listening – not just to our customers, but to our entire 280 Group team. She has a wicked sense of humor and a song for every occasion. Click on our chat button to say “Hi” to her!

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We empower Product Professionals with the knowledge and tools to create products that matter.

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