Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 23rd 2014 Contents In my last article on August 21, I
focused on team leadership of family
businesses. A more defined subset of
shared leadership is the rapidly growing
phenomenon of co-chief executive
officers or co-presidents.
Family businesses are leading the way in
implementing what the literature calls a "spe-
cial case of shared leadership". The surveys
showed that in 2007 over 20 per cent of United
States-based family businesses were led by
co-CEOs; an increase from the 12 per cent
recorded in the 2002 survey.
It is not only family businesses that are
implementing this leadership structure, though
Oracle is the latest publicly traded firm to
announce joint CEOs, and they join Whole
Foods, among others. The phenomenon has
created a heated dichotomy of views between
those who think that the complexity of today s
business world makes this an idea which time
has come versus others who see it as disaster
in the making.
Family business scholars are similarly divided
between those who think that it is a workable
answer to business and family issues and those
who think it is an easy way out for parents
faced with a choice between their children.
Full disclosure here: I have a vested interest
in this phenomenon and have conducted and
am still conducting my own research studies
into co-CEOs in North America. My research
includes a detailed case study and, more
recently, interviews of family business co-
CEOs. Yet, other family business researchers
tell me they find the idea not well received
among family business advisers and researchers.
I have encountered a fair degree of scepticism
There are those who say that the arrange-
ment slows down decision making; causes
confusion, if not manipulation, among employ-
ees; is a recipe for conflict; wastes resources;
dilutes responsibility; reduces accountability;
a litany of don ts. The Fortune Magazine Sep-
tember 20 Internet post quotes eminent busi-
ness professors giving their dire views of the
concept of two or even three at the top.
The role of roles
Those who are willing to even entertain dis-
cussion about this leadership configuration
immediately pronounce that there must be a
visible and clear division of labour and report-
ing arrangements. Yes, in the interest of effi-
ciency, most co-CEO pairs do implement some
kind of role differentiation as each person may
assume more oversight for certain functions
within the company. Yet there is a reasonable
degree of role overlap.
At the very least, each co-CEO is well
informed about the areas not under his direct
supervision to the extent that each could fill
in for his co-leader should the temporary need
arise. Actually, they often cite that level of
flexibility as an advantage to the arrangement.
That is not the biggest advantage to role overlap
that the co-CEOs cite.
Those family members who share the top
posts speak to the synergy generated by the
arrangement. I have had one of a brother co-
CEO pair say to me that in their arrangement
"one plus one equals five."
When the leaders collaborate, the combined
efforts produce thinking and results for both
the business and the family that exceeds the
simple addition of their skills. The interaction
could actually bring out more than the best
in each person. I had a sister co-CEO say of
her brother, "I think better when he is in the
The arrangement works well when the co-
CEOs have complementary skills---as in mar-
keting and administration---or technical and
operations and I have seen it work just as well
when both family members have similar spe-
The leadership structure allows for each
person to maximise personality traits as well,
with the more gregarious of the pair naturally
becoming the face of the company. Yet, each
co-CEO publicly recognises his co-leader and
does so naturally and effortlessly. Their business
cards say co-CEO, and they acknowledge the
other, even when that person is not at the
meeting or event.
The Triple C
The successful co-CEOs enjoy regular con-
tact and relish the fact that they are often co-
located and often in offices right next to each
other. Some of them set up regular daily meet-
ings---one pair has a standing morning coffee
date---and often, they allude to how easy it is
to "just walk over and pop my head into his
office." Even if one of them is elsewhere, the
co-CEOs all speak to deliberate efforts at
enhanced communication. As a research par-
ticipant said "if you don t communicate, what s
the point? You might as well just have one."
And it is not just about keeping each other
in the loop. They recognise that between joint
leaders, the communication must be honest
and open. There is no room for hidden agendas
in this structure. A co-CEO said it well when
he told me "if you properly communicate up
front, and you re truthful about what is on
your mind and you may not like to hear the
answer, but it s a truthful answer and, so that s
the key issue in our life, is our ability to be
open in our relationships with others." While
this is valid for any kind of joint ownership
and/or management, it takes on additional
significance when there are two people occu-
pying the top post.
Conflict is inevitable and indeed welcome
in good leadership teams. I maintain that two
heads are better than one only when they dis-
agree. And a key component of the relationship
between the co-CEOs is that they have worked
out some kind of mechanism for resolving
conflict. This usually entails "taking it off line"
as a co-CEO said to me. So for major dis-
agreements, most co-CEOs retire behind closed
doors and work it out. Sometimes, they resort
to the Board of Directors or an external con-
sultant and that is not the norm.
Finally, in the eloquent if not elegant words
of one co-CEO, sometimes "you just have to
suck it up."
There are other features of the relationship
between co-CEOs that bear further airing---
like trust and respect---the usual suspects. And
practically all of the co-CEOs whom I have
encountered, speak of having fun doing this.
What better motivation could there be!
Dr Annette Rahael
is a family business adviser
OCTOBER 2014 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG17
When two heads
are better than one
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