Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Su Mi Beack, Head of Product Management, Transportation Additives, LAB, LANXESS.
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Su Mi Beack: Head of Product Management, Transportation Additives, LAB, LANXESS. 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?
I grew up in Korea, and when I was young, I wanted to be a journalist. I majored in journalism, but soon realized that I liked more tangible, measurable and achievable aspirations. When I moved to Canada, I got my MBA in Marketing. My first job was as a Brand Manager at a fast-moving, consumer goods company. It was quite fun to oversee packaging and design and different types of advertising. I ran the promotions and planning with our various retailers.
I eventually took a job as a Product Manager with Chemtura, a chemical company later acquired by LANXESS. This transition was quite eye opening for me. My memory of chemistry was from school, so I had a steep learning curve. Today, I am leading the team of Product Managers for the Transportation Additive Segment. Once my previous boss commended me for starting from scratch and learning quickly. Now I own the business line. It is very exciting and rewarding to contribute to and shape the business for future growth.
Any lessons learned along the way?
I have learned two important lessons in my career: First, business needs to make sense. Someone mentioned that they enjoyed working with me because I have common sense. It hit me that for all the complex business analysis, and day-to-day and long-term strategy we need to do, in the end we need common sense. Sometimes people forget or overlook it. Common sense can add more depth if you’re doing long-term planning and help you be more flexible with short-term planning and tasks. Business is run by common sense.
The second lesson I learned is that everything is negotiable. This is true whether you’re dealing with your own internal teams or with customers. Reminding myself of this fact gives me the courage and confidence to make choices and helps me see what kind of mitigation plan to adopt. Often, people are afraid of making decisions and failing. Once you know everything is negotiable, you can make changes for the better.
What do you find the most challenging?
I think it depends on the industry. In the chemical industry, Product Managers need to oversee the entire value chain. From the raw materials to additives, to production operations and customer sales. Product Managers need to understand each component of the value chain and have a strategic mindset, so they can identify where they can add the most value. That’s not easy!
What do you like most about product management?
There is never a dull moment. It’s an ever-changing dynamic. There are always new opportunities or new risks to factor in, which keeps me agile all the time. Under the corporate umbrella, Product Managers are like mini-CEOs, they take ownership of their business line and are in a constant decision-making process to shape that business. They can influence the organization to reach its potential. I believe that Product Managers are a key driving force for the business and that’s an interesting and fantastic aspect of the job that really appeals to me.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
Regarding attitude, I believe a willingness to learn is important, as well as a can-do attitude and an ownership spirit. You are the mini-CEO so, you need to own your product line to make it successful. In my view, mandatory skills are analytical and time management because we juggle so many things at the same time. Interpersonal skills are necessary as well, because we deal with many different cross-functional teams and customers. It’s also important to be a strategic thinker, which is the difference between Analysts and Product Managers. Product Managers need to be strategic-thinking in nature. These are the things I look for when interviewing.
What advice would you give women going into product management?
First, don’t be afraid of asking questions. You don’t know everything. Accept your limitations; you are not Superwoman. Utilize the experts in your organization. They could be technical people or people from sales, supply chain, or finance. Leverage the expertise of every kind of expert you have. Your curiosity will help you learn more about the depth of the business.
Second, put yourself in other people’s shoes. It could be your competitor, who owns the market share you want to steal. It could be your customers, who are always evaluating their options. It could be senior management, who are looking for your valuable input. Being able to see things from their perspective will make you a more strategic, empathetic, and influential leader. Fortunately, most women have great capacity for empathy, and are able to influence others by seeing things from alternative perspectives.
Any guiding principle?
Business is a marathon. You have a long way to go. Sometimes you need to sprint, and sometimes you may trip. Get up, dust off, and do your best to finish the race. Don’t let short term risk, or a couple of failures, blind you from seeing where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Sometimes I need to remind myself that the race doesn’t end right now, or in one quarter or one year. It’s a marathon. Do well until the end.
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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
Nicole Tieche is a Solutions 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.