Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Susan Gasperini, Vice President, Technical Product Manager at LPL Financial
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series, I interviewed Susan Gasperini, Vice President, Technical Product Manager at LPL Financial. 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?
Honestly, I was at the right place at the right time. I’ve been with LPL for almost 15 years and I became a pseudo product manager within the company before the concept even existed. I effectively became the translator between business units and technology teams as part of a large corporate initiative. We were partnering with several individuals in technology on a merger, and they needed my subject matter expertise to understand the bare requirements in order to create a solution. One late night, the individual (who is now my current boss) said to me, “We need more people like you in technology.” My response was, “Really, me?” I was surprised because I was not a developer and had never considered a technology role before.
The idea made me nervous. My background is in service and operations, coaching, developing people, and serving customers. I was selected for a leadership training class and my current boss was in the class as well. That gave me confidence that the company had identified him as a strong leader, someone who would look out for others, and follow up on his word. I decided to go for it, and the rest is history.
Any lessons learned along the way?
Allow time for your team to be creative and see where that leads you. Always expect and inspire curiosity. I always look for curiosity on my team – people who are comfortable saying, “I really need to understand this and I have several questions”.
Another lesson I learned from a scrum perspective is that if my team is always 100% on target consistently, then they’re not stepping outside their comfort zone. They’re not pushing to advance the product. I don’t want my team to be overloaded, but I think there are times we should be at 70% velocity.
What do you like most about product management?
I am a rule breaker, not a rule maker. I love solving problems and imagining what’s possible. This role allows me to leverage my service and operations experience to help improve the overall experience for LPL employees and customers. The most interesting part of the challenge is making the possible a reality. It’s finding out how to do something efficiently and effectively, without losing the core of who we are and what we can support. Sometimes you can’t fathom what it’s going to be like, but my role is to be two or three iterations ahead of whatever we’re rolling out now.
What do you find the most challenging?
As a vice president in Technology Product Management, it’s a fun challenge to work with various partners across the business. I partner with executives and talk about budget, funding, planning, and resourcing. Ten minutes later, I could be meeting with the sales team to talk about initiatives and customer feedback. An hour later, I could then meet with the solutions development team to discuss KPIs, tools, and vendors.
They all have varying needs, and I have to be the North Star for continual alignment of the product, vision, and strategy. Having strong partnerships in all of that is very important. The demand is challenging, but I think that’s also why women are so great at product management, because we’re used to that.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
Here is a question I ask almost any one I interview: if we were going to build the first office on Mars, where would you start? Building something on Mars is a pretty foreign concept to most of us. There are times when your business partners, especially from the technology side, will come to you with a foreign concept that you have to solve for.
I look for people who are comfortable venturing into the unknown, being the first to steward the vision to reality. To take the intangible and make it tangible, you have to be comfortable with being 90% wrong. The first time you put it on paper, you have to be okay with only being 10% right. Then ask, “What did I miss? What did I misunderstand?”
Use that curiosity over and over to get it right. The biggest thing that holds people back is not being willing to be the first person to put it on paper. But those are the trailblazers who don’t take it personally or overthink it. They get stuff done.
What advice would you give women going into product management?
There are many careers for women in technology. You don’t have to just be a technologist, a developer, a coder, or an engineer. If someone told me five years ago that I would work on the technology team, I would have thought they were crazy.
Women are often overqualified when they apply for roles. My advice is that if you can do 50% of the role the day you apply, then do it. Even if you’re not successful in the application process, you will learn something about yourself or discover a skill that’s required in the role that you can work on. Do not wait until you are 90% qualified, checking everything off on the job description, because in six to nine months, you’ll end up being bored. You will end up being overqualified for every role that you apply for.
Product management is challenging and rewarding, so my advice is to build your network of allies quickly. These are the people who will give you time to share ideas, and partner with you toward the common vision. You’ll also find the dissenters who will challenge you, in turn making your product better. The time and energy you spend with them will be worth it. If you’re lucky enough to turn a dissenter into an advocate, that’s when you really build momentum within the organization.
Any guiding motto?
Feedback creates the pebbles that build the road to your success. Get as much feedback as you can about yourself, your team, your vision, what’s working well, and what needs improvement. When people are not willing to give you feedback, they may not be connected to the overall team’s mission. As long as people are willing to give you feedback, they’re still engaged, and that’s beneficial.
Download the Trailblazing Women in Product Management E-Book
View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.
About the Author
Nicole Tieche is 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.