Jeremy Horn, globally celebrated as “The Product Guy,” is a trailblazer in product management innovation. With a mastery in AI, SaaS, and steering digital transformation, his legacy spans over two decades of reshaping industries. From agile startups to titans like Viacom and Cognizant, Jeremy’s vision has been unerringly aimed at catapulting digital solutions into strategic business victories.
Currently an Executive Leadership Consultant, Jeremy’s philosophy centers on fostering growth through customer-centric innovation. However, his legacy isn’t confined to corporate strategy. As the visionary founder of The Product Group—a pioneering global product management community—Jeremy’s profound academic influence has shaped curricula at elite institutions like CMU Heinz and The New School. A stalwart advocate for the product community, he spearheads initiatives like The Product Mentor program. A Global Thought Leader, Jeremy’s voice resonates across a spectrum of platforms, from The Product Guy Blog and The Product Way YouTube Channel to radio, podcasts and world-renowned conferences.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Jeremy shared his professional trajectory, the biggest trends influencing the development of technology products in the next five years, significant career milestones, the top three attributes that make a great product leader, the secret sauce behind his success, future plans, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Jeremy, could you please tell us about your background, your career path, and how you got to your position today?
As I reflect on my path to becoming a globally recognized Chief Product Officer and executive leadership consultant, I see a consistent thread of innovation, creativity, and a natural inclination toward problem-solving. Interestingly, my journey didn’t start with my formal education in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University; it actually began much earlier. As a young artist, inventor, and computer programmer, I discovered my passions. These early experiences were a precursor to my eventual roles in product management, where I was always driven to develop solutions for real-world problems.
My time at Carnegie Mellon was transformative. I immersed myself in the world of early artificial intelligence, learning from pioneers in the field. I had the opportunity to work in the Robotics Institute’s Visual Imaging Laboratory, which was a crucial period of growth for me. There, I worked on a variety of projects, from Korean character classification to digital libraries and 3D food analysis. These experiences solidified my understanding of AI’s potential and laid down the foundational blocks for many of my subsequent endeavors.
Throughout my career, I’ve embraced a variety of dynamic roles, ranging from launching innovative startups to guiding product strategies at some of the world’s leading companies. A significant milestone was my tenure at Cognizant as the VP and Global Head of Product Management. There, I led the product management organization, spearheading a strategic realignment and redefining the go-to-market and underlying business models within the Digital Business & Technology service line. This role involved driving change through a top-line product-centric business vision, leading to substantial growth in profitability and client acquisition.
My entrepreneurial drive resulted in me founding several startups before my time at Cognizant. In the ’90s, I started an AI-driven network security company. Later, I co-founded SingleFeed, using a learning expert system to optimize online commerce for a diverse range of clients. My latest endeavor, Tafifi, was an AI-powered road mapping tool for product organizations.
Each venture was more than just a business; it was a mission to solve real, meaningful problems with innovative and enjoyable solutions. My current role as an Executive Leadership Consultant, where I act as a Chief Product Officer for Fortune 500 companies, allows me to guide product development and align strategies with business goals for various organizations. This role taps into my expertise in digital strategy, product operations, and cross-functional team leadership.
If you were to ask for the “secret to my success,” I would describe it as a combination of three key elements: (1) My ability to create a comfortable environment for individuals, enabling me to delve deeply into their genuine needs, aspirations, and desires. (2) The extensive scope of my experience in tackling challenging product and organizational problems, which allows me to offer meaningful assistance to others. (3) My profound passion for understanding and pushing innovation around the many processes of product creation/development, encompassing everything from the overarching organizational strategy to the minute details of processes and the vital contributions of the people involved.
Do you think the role of a Product leader has changed throughout your career?
The evolution of the Product Leader role over my career has been profound. In the 1990s, early in my career, the focus was predominantly on managing product life cycles, emphasizing timelines and features. Now, it encompasses a strategic vision deeply intertwined with user experience, technology, and data analytics. The digital revolution has made product management a lean, agile, data-driven field. Today’s Product Leaders need a robust understanding of user data and market trends, and must excel in cross-functional collaboration. The role has transformed from a focus on product development to a broader mandate that includes market positioning, customer engagement, and a significant influence on organizational strategy. This holistic approach is vital in our interconnected, fast-paced digital economy.
Moreover, the role has evolved into mentoring and uniting diverse teams, blending different skills and ideas into a unified vision for innovation. As we look to the future, Product Leaders are poised to harness emerging technologies like AI, IoT, and Web3.0, paving the way for a new era of products that seamlessly integrate digital and physical realms. This evolution underlines the expanding, influential role of Product Leaders in shaping the future of business in a dynamic, technologically advanced world.
What do you see as the biggest trend influencing the development of technology products in the next five years?
In the next five years, the landscape of product development will be profoundly shaped by the fusion of rapid technological advancements and the shifting expectations of the upcoming digitally native generations. These individuals, having been raised in a digital-first environment, anticipate technology that is not only intuitive and seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives but also reflective of core values such as inclusivity, environmental sustainability, and ethical transparency.
Key technologies such as AI, IoT, and real-time data analytics will be pivotal in this evolution. AI is set to play a crucial role in crafting personalized experiences and maintaining data privacy, while IoT is expected to enable a more seamless integration of technology into daily life. These advancements are not just about functional upgrades; they must resonate with the lifestyle preferences and values of a generation that puts a premium on connectivity, community, and social impact.
This shift in consumer expectations will drive product development towards solutions that are not only technologically advanced but also socially responsible and environmentally conscious. Digital natives seek products that align with their social, environmental, and ethical identities, making user-centric design and sustainability more important than ever. As these generations become the primary consumers and join the workforce, their influence will steer innovation towards creating technology solutions that are not just tools but extensions of their values and beliefs.
The convergence of advanced technology with the values of the upcoming generations will necessitate a new paradigm in product development — one that emphasizes personalization, ethical integrity, and environmental responsibility, shaping a future where technology is in harmony with societal and environmental well-being.
You’ve had a long career in technology and product development. What are some guiding principles that you’ve learned throughout your career?
Throughout my career, the following 10 guiding principles have emerged as fundamental:
- User-Centricity: Always place the user at the heart of product development. Understanding their needs, preferences, and pain points is crucial for creating products that truly resonate and provide value.
- Adaptability: The tech landscape is perpetually evolving. Being adaptable and willing to pivot in response to new technologies, market trends, and user feedback is essential for staying relevant and innovative.
- Collaborative Approach & Ecosystems: Success in product development hinges on effective teamwork and cross-functional collaboration, extending beyond internal teams to include partnerships with other companies, industry experts, and customers. Encouraging diverse perspectives and skill sets can lead to more creative and comprehensive solutions.
- Continuous Learning: The pace of technological change demands a commitment to continuous learning and growth. Staying curious and open to new ideas helps in adapting to emerging technologies and methodologies.
- Ethical Responsibility: With the growing impact of technology on society, it’s imperative to prioritize ethical considerations in product development. This means being mindful of privacy, security, and the broader societal implications of the products we create.
- Sustainability: As environmental concerns grow, integrating sustainability into product development is not just a moral imperative but also a business necessity. This involves considering the environmental impact of products throughout their lifecycle.
- Data-Driven Decision Making: Leveraging data effectively can provide invaluable insights into user behavior and market trends, guiding more informed and strategic decisions in the product development process.
- Cultivating a Culture of Innovation: Fostering an organizational culture that encourages innovation is vital. Empowering teams to think creatively and take calculated risks can lead to groundbreaking products and solutions.
- Strategic Vision Alignment: Aligning product strategy with the overall vision of the organization is crucial. This alignment ensures cohesive growth and a clear direction for both the product and the organization.
- Balancing Vision with Execution: While having a bold vision is important, equally critical is the ability to execute that vision effectively. This balance is key to transforming innovative ideas into successful products.
These principles have not only guided my career but have also evolved with it, reflecting the dynamic nature of the tech industry and the ever-changing needs and expectations of users.
What does innovation mean to you? And how do you determine how to prioritize innovation? What are the guiding principles for how you decide to make product investments?
To me, innovation means breaking new ground by transforming creative ideas into tangible, valuable solutions. It’s about challenging the status quo and continuously seeking ways to improve, solve problems, and meet emerging needs in novel ways. Innovation is not just about technology; it’s about a mindset – a product mindset — that embraces change, encourages experimentation, and values creative problem-solving.
Prioritizing innovation involves balancing potential impact with feasibility. It’s about assessing where the greatest value can be created for users and the business, and aligning that with the company’s strategic vision and resources. This often means choosing projects that not only promise significant market disruption or user benefit but also align with our core competencies and strategic goals.
The guiding principles for deciding on product investments revolve around several key factors:
- Alignment with Vision and Strategy: Select potential innovations based on their alignment with the overall vision and strategic direction, supporting long-term goals and enhancing market position.
- User Need and Market Demand: Prioritize innovations that address real problems and fulfill unmet needs in line with user demands and market trends is essential.
- Feasibility and Scalability: Focus on innovations that are technically and operationally feasible and scalable within existing capabilities is crucial.
- Impact on User Experience: Give precedence to innovations that significantly improve user interaction with products and services is key.
- Return on Investment (ROI): Assess the potential ROI of innovations, both in financial terms and strategic benefits like market positioning, is important.
- Sustainability and Ethical Considerations: Evaluate the environmental and ethical implications of innovations to ensure alignment with sustainability and social responsibility commitments is fundamental.
These principles guide my decision-making process, helping me identify and invest in innovations that promise growth and advancement, while also reflecting important values and a commitment to the product’s users and society.
In your opinion, why does diversity matter? What do you think Product and Tech leaders can put in place to solve the challenge of limited diversity across leadership teams?
Diversity matters profoundly because it brings a wealth of perspectives, experiences, and ideas that are crucial for innovation and problem-solving. Where creativity and understanding of a global user base are key, diversity is essential. It leads to more comprehensive and empathetic product development, better understanding of diverse markets, and avoidance of blind spots in decision-making.
To address the challenge of limited diversity in leadership, Product and Tech leaders can:
- Implement Inclusive Hiring Practices: Start by expanding recruitment efforts to reach a more diverse candidate pool. This includes partnering with organizations that focus on underrepresented groups and re-evaluating job descriptions, requirements, and the interview process, itself, to ensure they are inclusive.
- Promote Equitable Advancement Opportunities: Ensure that career progression and professional development opportunities are accessible and equitable. This involves transparent promotion processes and mentorship programs to support diverse talent.
- Foster an Inclusive Culture: Cultivate a workplace culture that values and respects diversity. This includes regular training on unconscious bias, creating forums for open discussion on diversity issues, and ensuring that all voices are heard and valued.
- Enforce Leadership Accountability: Establish and enforce clear diversity goals, making leadership accountable for achieving them through performance metrics and organizational objectives.
- Support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Encourage and support the formation of ERGs which provide networks and support systems for underrepresented groups.
- Analyze Diversity Metrics Regularly: Proactively analyze and review diversity metrics to identify areas for improvement and to track progress over time, ensuring ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.
By implementing these strategies, Product and Tech leaders can create more diverse and inclusive leadership teams, leading to better decision-making, better products, and a healthier organizational culture.
What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?
A defining moment in my career, and one that I am particularly proud of, occurred when I was tasked with rescuing a failing product and revitalizing a struggling organization. The situation was critical: the company was grappling with ineffective leadership, flawed go-to-market strategies, an unsustainable revenue model, and plummeting morale.
My approach was holistic and transformative. I spearheaded a comprehensive overhaul of the organization, restructuring it to become more agile and responsive. Implementing parallel tracks for development and experimentation, I established a culture focused on rapid learning and adaptability. This shift was instrumental in realigning the product to better meet market demands and user needs. The result was not just a revitalized product but a rejuvenated company culture, dynamic and data-driven, marked by a newfound drive to experiment, learn, and adapt.
These changes rapidly turned around our financial trajectory. We saw a positive shift in cash flow and profitability, marking a stark contrast to our previous state. This experience was not just about rescuing a product; it was about steering an entire organization back to a path of growth and success, a challenge that was both immensely complex and deeply rewarding.
The impact of these changes on the product and the organization was significant, but what I am most proud of was the positive effect on the employees. Implementing new methods and approaches reinvigorated the team’s enthusiasm for the mission. They were not just learning new ways of working; they were actively contributing to meaningful progress. This renewed sense of purpose and engagement was evident across all corners of the organization. Employees began to take joy in their work, seeing the tangible impact of their contributions, and this shift in morale was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the entire experience.
In your opinion, what are the top three attributes of a great product leader?
A great product leader is distinguished by their visionary thinking, empathy, decisiveness, ability to empower teams, and leading by example. These qualities combine to form a leader who is not only adept at strategically steering their product to success but also excels in fostering a supportive and growth-oriented team environment. The following top three attributes encapsulate what I believe make a product leader great:
- Visionary Thinking and Empathy: A great product leader must have the foresight to anticipate future trends and needs, coupled with a deep empathy for users. This combination of visionary thinking and user-centric focus is essential for creating products that not only meet current demands but also pave the way for future innovations.
- Empowering Teams and Fostering Growth: Beyond strategic vision, a great leader must enable and empower their team. This involves not just providing resources and autonomy but also focusing on the team’s skill development and career growth. It’s about creating an environment where the team feels supported and encouraged to evolve professionally.
- Decisive Execution and Leading by Example: Effective leadership requires the ability to make informed decisions swiftly and the agility to adapt to change. A great product leader complements this with leading by example, setting a high standard in work ethic, commitment, and integrity. This approach inspires the team to excel and drives cohesive, efficient progress towards shared goals.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I step away from work, I indulge in simple yet enriching activities that rejuvenate my mind and spirit. I love to take leisurely walks, letting my curiosity guide me to new corners of the city or through the quiet halls of a museum, each step opening up new perspectives and insights. My fascination with puzzle boxes often becomes a shared challenge with my wife and kids, offering delightful moments of teamwork and the thrill of solving complex mechanisms together. Writing is my personal retreat, a space for introspection and creativity, while playing with my kids is a joyful reminder of the spontaneity and pure fun of life. These moments, whether in quiet reflection or playful laughter with my family, are the ones that truly enrich my life outside work.
What is your favorite productivity tool/hack?
Each night, I take a moment to step back and reflect on the day ahead. It’s a quiet ritual where I organize and prioritize my tasks, making sure I’m set up for success when the morning comes. This isn’t just about making a to-do list; it’s about streamlining my focus, identifying the tasks that matter most, and aligning them with my goals. It’s a practice that brings clarity and intention to my work, ensuring that I’m always tackling what’s most impactful first thing in the day. This nightly routine, coupled with the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle), is more than a productivity hack; it’s a cornerstone of how I navigate both the demands and the possibilities of each new day.
What is your biggest goal? Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
Five years from now, I picture myself in a place where my professional journey and personal passions aren’t just in balance but are enriching each other in a deeply meaningful way. My goal is to be at a point where my professional journey as a Chief Product Officer at a large multinational organization is not just about leading teams or driving innovation, but about nurturing environments where creativity and personal growth go hand in hand.
It’s less about a title or a specific achievement and more about the impact I can make. I imagine a future where ‘The Product Group’ has grown not just in size but in the depth of its connections, bringing together product managers from all walks of life to share, learn, and grow together. I see myself continuing to contribute through ‘The Product Way’ YouTube channel, not just as a source of information, but as a platform that truly inspires. For ‘The Product Mentor’ program, I intend to continue extending its reach beyond the 20+ countries we are currently in, deepening its impact by fostering richer mentorship experiences and stronger professional networks for product managers at all levels.
Above all, in five years, I hope to look back and see a path marked by genuine connections, learning from others, and contributing to a community both professionally and in my personal life. It’s about leaving a legacy that’s measured not in milestones or accolades, but in the positive changes made in the lives of people I’ve worked with, and the loving memories created with my family.