Lead(H)er: Neha Kumar, Director of Product Management at Oscar Health
When Neha Kumar graduated from the University of Michigan with a BBA in business, she felt like she had two options: a career in consulting, or a career in finance.
“I didn’t really have a clear, long-term goal or an industry I wanted to land in,” said Kumar, who is now the Director of Product Management at Oscar Health. “I just wanted to understand the basics of learning and running a business, so I explored a bunch of classes inside and out of business to make sure I had a diversity of thought.”
Kumar took that diversity down the consulting path, where she focused on strategic planning for American Express. Working within the company’s internal consulting group, Kumar drilled down into the then-fledgling digital payment space as well as technologies like Google Wallet, Square, and Apple Pay.
Then, the product management team at American Express reached out to Kumar and asked her to join a new product management group centered around alternative banking methods. It was a leap of faith for Kumar, who had little experience in the area, but she was willing to make that jump.
“I raised my hand for a lot of different opportunities with the tech team within product,” she said. “I realized I really wanted to grow my product career and thought the best way to do that was by working in a smaller organization, where I could have a larger impact and learn how things worked.”
The realization led her to Oscar Health, a tech-driven, consumer-focused health insurance startup that offers plans for individuals and small businesses that provide better tools and resources to empower our members to navigate the complex health care system, including a streamlined system to schedule appointments, find doctors, and more. Kumar has worked in several segments of product at Oscar, climbing from product manager to Director of product management in a few short years while learning about sales, customer service, and data infrastructure along the way. She’s now responsible for mentoring and growing a team of her own.
Oscar has grown from the small company Kumar joined in 2015 to an organization of approximately 1,000 employees, and while its small size initially attracted Kumar to the company, the surge hasn’t changed her feelings about her role or the company.
“The problem is so large and so messy to solve, and I really wanted to solve it with a smart and engaged set of people,” Kumar said. “That’s what makes me stay.”
When Kumar looks at her future now, she’s sure of where she wants to end up: leading a team, trying to solve a problem at a mission-driven company, and working in product.
Jobs in product combine psychology, strategic thinking, technical skills, and being able to ask the right questions of the right people, and Kumar enjoys the challenge of making it all come together.
She’s also looking forward to becoming an even better manager and continuing to mentor people new to product, the same way others did for her.
“I’ve had amazing, strong, female leaders that supported me through each step of my career,” Kumar said. “They saw something in me and gave me opportunities, so now I’m doing the same.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
I find the best way for me to manage my free time is to travel a lot. I love going on vacations and disconnecting, then using my brain space to absorb new cultures, new foods, new languages. That’s how I balance my time at work.
How do you typically manage stress?
I love working out. I think it’s a really good way to disconnect and remove yourself from your day-to-day and focus on yourself. Your mental health is a strength, so it’s a good way to balance out my time each day. Then again, sometimes watching Netflix and having a glass of wine and slice of cake works!
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t necessarily drink tea every day, so I would say most of the time zero. I’ve never gotten in the habit of drinking caffeine.
What’s one of your favorite places in the NYC area?
The Williamsburg Bridge. A few years ago I picked up running, and it’s one of my favorite spots to run. It has a beautiful view of the city skyline, and it’s not as crowded as our other bridges.
What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?
I ran my first half marathon several years ago, and that was definitely my greatest accomplishment. I was never that athletic—I probably peaked in 5th grade, when I was the tallest kid in my class and really good at basketball. I only picked it up because a couple of coworkers encouraged me and participated in training with me, so I’m proud of taking on a challenge and doing something I didn’t think was possible. Running used to be the worst experience, but now it’s a completing different thing.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I think this is kind of where I thought I would end up. I didn’t have a sense of what product management would look like, because when I was in school it wasn’t as popular a career path as it is now. I really wanted to grow into being a leader in my team and be able to manage a team, mentor other people, and really drive forward the goals of the company. I’m really lucky to have had the support that got me where I am today.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
I reflect on this a lot. I think it’s important to approach things with humility but also an eagerness to learn. I spent a lot of time in the early days just raising my hands for new opportunities and taking on things outside of my job description or flexing skills I didn’t know I had. That’s really how I got into product. I think it’s also important to think about how you build your relationships with your peers, but also with the person you report to. Garner trust, get the right level of feedback and communication. Those relationships will set up the opportunities to continue to grow. I’ve managed to have great relationships like that, and that’s helped me in my career.