Wanted alive and kicking: New-age product managers

New product manager hires from the IITs are being offered annual salaries of  ₹25-45 lakh, according to their placement officers.
New product manager hires from the IITs are being offered annual salaries of 25-45 lakh, according to their placement officers.


  • Apart from a dearth of suitable product managers in the job market, what’s driving increasing demand for them is companies diversifying into niche product lines to stand apart in clogged markets

MUMBAI : At the annual campus hiring ritual at the Indian Institutes of Technology this year, a rather ubiquitous profile stood out, but with a more evolved job definition. 

Software companies, consultancies, consumer firms, and startups have been prowling premier engineering and business schools for potential product managers who can go beyond the traditional requirements of the role.

What’s driving the increasing demand for product managers in particular is that over the last couple of years, companies have been pushed to diversify and come up with niche product lines that can help them stand apart in clogged markets, say recruiters.

What this means for a new generation of product managers is that they are also required to be data mining experts, able to evaluate social-economic trends and behaviour patterns of consumers, and estimate likely changes in purchasing power.

The role’s demand has amplified as companies now need managers who can work around how consumption patterns in India are changing with exposure to global products and availability, said recruiters. Product managers also need to have AI and full-stack domain knowledge.

“Depending upon the sector they are picking up, innovative  approach and domain knowledge with a fair understanding of operational processes are important skills that firms are looking for," said Brajesh Singh, president at consulting firm Arthur D Little India that was among companies that beelined to the IITs this year to recruit product managers.

In a consulting company, a product manager would have to focus on developing solutions and services that can be customised for different kinds of clients in the same sector, Singh said. He didn’t provide details on how many PMs the company has so far recruited from the IITs this year.

The annual placements of graduating engineering students across IITs began earlier this month and is still ongoing.

New hires from the IITs for product manager roles are being offered annual salaries of 25-45 lakh, according to placement officers at the IITs. Companies hiring senior PMs from rivals or other sectors pay 1.5 crore, or even more, said executives at recruitment firms.

E-commerce firm Flipkart and Ola Group, which houses electric two-wheeler company Ola Electric and a ride-hailing app, and several other large companies have been scouting for product managers this year, according to placement officers across the IITs.

“They are coming up with a line of new products and have very clear differentiation needs. They want students who can use digital skill sets to analyse the data and come up with a plan," said a placement officer at a leading IIT.

Recruiters said there was a dearth of suitable product managers in the job market, pushing companies to groom talent from within. 

“There are separate business channels now for (business-to-consumer, or B2C) and (business-to-business, or B2B) markets for the same product," said Kamal Karanth, co-founder of Xpheno, a recruitment firm focused on tech and startup hiring. “We are placing product heads for 80 lakh- 1 crore."

As per Xpheno’s data, the talent pool for product managers in Indian firms registered the highest annual growth as compared with other countries.

India, standing at third position after the US and China in terms of size of active and accessible managers, has seen a 6% growth over the past 12 months, according to data from Xpheno.

In comparison, the US and China, in the top 2 ranks, have remained stagnant in talent pool size over the past year, according to the recruitment firm. Germany at 4% and the UK at 2% annual growth were in positions 4 and 5.

Companies are seeking specialists who can convert each product line into a 100-crore-plus business, Karanth said on the specific demands of product managers. Xpheno recently placed a chief product officer in a startup at a salary exceeding 1 crore.

“The product managers talent pool in software products cohorts has grown by 25%, followed by the IT services cohort at 17%," he said. “The growth in the startups cohort has remained relatively low at 2% over the year."

Even in niche sectors such as agriculture, demand for specialist product managers is on the rise.

“There are too many me-too products in the market and we need a differentiator. Instead of hiring generalists, we look at candidates who understand crops, climatic requirements and farmer prosperity," said Sanjay S Singh, chief human resources officer at UPL Ltd, a producer of agrochemicals and industrial chemicals.

The company, which has 59 product managers on its rolls, has hired from top B-schools and engineering colleges. While UPL used to hire 6-7 product managers annually till about two years ago, it now recruits up to 14 every year, Singh said, adding that this was “due to hyper acceleration of business and moving from a product to a solution-based approach".

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