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Last year, Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison, tapped not one, but two CEOs to replace him when he steps down as leader. Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Deutsche Bank also use the dual management structure, and since 2012, Online Tech, a Midwest tech company has had two Co-CEOs: myself and Yan Ness.
As a company that manages mission-critical cloud computing, our business model relies on redundancy across its data centers to ensure uptime and availability. Redundancy at the CEO level is part of its business model.
Consider the benefits of a mission-critical business that has two CEOs. Not only do we cover each other when we need the necessary downtime, but we can also run faster together. The average business leader takes several weeks of vacation per year plus holidays and weekends. For with a company with Co-CEO leadership, the extra coverage can give eight percent more to the business, year in and year out. One can outpace your competitors faster over time.
Stephen Ferris, a University of Missouri finance professor, studied companies with co-CEOs and found many benefits, arguing the arrangement can be “ideal in many situations,” notably when the co-CEOs have complementary skills.
At Online Tech, I focus outward on marketing, sales, and building client and partner relationships, while Yan focuses on technology, operations, and management. I’m more analytical and more focused on execution and Yan is more intuitive and more of a visionary. One of us gets to the bigger picture faster, and the other sees through the strategy and hurdles needed to drive success. One moves fast, the other is more contemplative.
Both of us admit that co-CEOs wouldn’t work for most companies or with most business leaders. The arrangement works because of our long working relationship and our complementary “yin and yang’’ strengths. We’ve learned over time that we agree on 90 percent of the key decisions and work well together offline when differences occur.
The co-CEO arrangement gives our company two different backgrounds and two different sets of experiences to draw on in the corner office. Many co-CEO arrangements have failed because co-CEOs are often competing to see who will emerge stronger. The arrangement works at Online Tech because we work together as a team, each benefiting equally and recognizing each other’s unique perspectives and strengths.
The CEO role is a pretty lonely job when you have no peer to discuss the tough decisions with. There are some problems and some decisions that you can’t discuss with the rest of the team or your board of directors. The combination of two experienced CEOs provides us an unusual advantage – the ability to bounce ideas off a peer that has the same stake in the outcome. Both of us approach things differently, but each brings something to the table that makes decisions better informed with peer review at the highest level.