CO-CEOS:

Two swords in one scab­bard?

Enterprise - - Corporate Lounge -

In 1999, the pub­li­ca­tion of ‘Co-Lead­ers: The Power of Great Part­ner­ships’ by David Heenan and War­ren Ben­nis, pre­saged a new way of think­ing about cor­po­rate lead­er­ship. This think­ing broke with the tra­di­tional con­cept of lead­er­ship and called it more as an in­sti­tu­tional trait than an in­di­vid­ual trait. Evolv­ing with years, lead­er­ship has taken form of a team sport. Or­ga­ni­za­tions have learnt the hard way that no one in­di­vid­ual can save a com­pany from medi­ocre per­for­mance and no one in­di­vid­ual, no mat­ter how ca­pa­ble, can be right all the time. Com­pany heads have started to be­lieve in, ‘None of us is as smart as all of us’.

There can be a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tion in which or­ga­ni­za­tions may con­sider joint CEOs. The most com­mon ones are, in a merger and ac­qui­si­tion sit­u­a­tion, a fam­ily busi­ness or in the ab­sence of a sin­gle strong CEO can­di­date in case of an un­planned and un­ex­pected emer­gency. A com­pany may also con­sider a dual-head struc­ture for rea­sons of con­ve­nience, to de-risk or sim­ply be­cause com­pa­nies are too large, too com­plex and too di­verse that they need a part­ner­ing shoul­der or a backup sup­port in par­tic­u­lar in­stances. The need of Co-CEO can be fairly in­ferred from a struc­ture like large di­choto­mous Euro­pean bank with a part of tra­di­tional re­tail and com­mer­cial bank in its home coun­try, while be­ing an ag­gres­sive in­vest­ment bank­ing player glob­ally.

The Co-CEO struc­ture of or­ga­ni­za­tions adds to the over­all strength of busi­ness. There can be sit­u­a­tions where the CEOs have com­ple­men­tary set of skills, for ex­am­ple one is pro­fi­cient in op­er­a­tions and sales man­age­ment, while the other ex­cels the fi­nances. To make use of such com­bi­na­tions, of­ten co-CEOs are cho­sen from within the com­pany, so their skills, strengths and weak­nesses are rel­a­tively well known to the board and to each other. Co-CEOs can act at a peer-level with each other and share the nec­es­sary coun­selling and ad­vice. This bond­ing adds to the ex­tra layer of gov­er­nance to the com­pany and lessens the need of an ex­ter­nal coun­sel­lor or ad­vi­sor.

Thus, the an­a­lysts are now com­ing to be­lieve that Co-CEOs are not two swords in a scab­bard. They are rather two peo­ple who dance the tango. There­fore, or­ga­ni­za­tions are ad­vised that Co-CEOs are hard­ware and soft­ware, your back­hand to his fore­hand and your tech­nique to his power. The trust fac­tor is held to be cru­cial in this sce­nario. The Co-CEO must carry a fair share of trustable char­ac­ter­is­tics, as he is usu­ally seen as the per­son who will catch you when you fall and watch your back.

This kind of trust can only be de­vel­oped through a suf­fi­cient amount of struc­tured and in­for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween both the CEOs and with the var­i­ous con­stituents — share­hold­ers, boards, teams and cus­tomers.

Also, an im­por­tant as­pect of this in­ter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the ma­tu­rity of the Co-CEOs to dis­agree in pri­vate and present a stern, uni­fied and com­mit­ted stance in front of the world, once the de­ci­sion has been taken. The pa­tience and gen­eros­ity of spirit to ac­com­mo­date and sup­port each other raise the lev­els of ma­tu­rity step by step that puts aside egos and team up to get the job done. Even­tu­ally, noth­ing suc­ceeds like suc­cess

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