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The Myth of the Product Management P&L

The short answer: It is a myth

John Mecke
8 min readAug 6, 2021

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There is a long-simmering debate in the product management community revolving around product managers and P&L statements. Do product managers really need access to the product P&L statement? Does each product line need its own P&L statement? Should product managers “own” the P&L and be the CEO of their product?

Where Did It All Begin? The Neil McElroy Memo

Neil McElroy

Neil McElroy

Neil McElroy was an executive with Procter & Gamble. As a junior executive managing the advertising campaign for P&G’s Camay brand of soap, McElroy wrote a famous 3-page company memo that laid out the principles of modern brand management. In the memo, McElroy argued that companies should assign a separate marketing team to each individual product brand as if it were a separate business. This innovative system of brand management would eventually be adopted by consumer product companies all throughout the U.S.

McElroy became Secretary of Defense in 1957 under Eisenhower. He also advised Stanford University where he had a significant impact on two entrepreneurs — Bill Hewlett and David Packard. “They interpreted the Brand Man ethos as putting decision making as close as possible to the customer and making the product manager the voice of the customer internally. In the seminal book The Hewlett-Packard Way, this policy is credited with sustaining Hewlett-Packard’s 50-year record of unbroken 20% year-on-year growth between 1943 and 1993] This approach became the foundation of tech product management.

Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz

The Debate Accelerates

In 1998 Ben Horowitz, of Opsware and Andreessen Horowitz fame, penned a piece entitled “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager” where he asserted:

“A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves

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John Mecke

John has over 25 years of experience in leading product management and corporate development organizations for enterprise firms.