More businesses are trying co-CEO leadership models to help offset exec burnout
The past year has brought forward a concept usually swept under the rug: CEO burnout.
Running a business during a pandemic and addressing the additional needs of remote workforces have taken their toll on C-suite executives. A total 53% admitted they have struggled with their own mental health over the past year, according to Oracle research.
Several have begun to speak openly about the impact of these pressures on their mental health. CEOs such as Alex Depledge from U.K. architectural startup Resi, Janice Kaffer of Canadian care centre Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and Matthew Cooper of U.S. fintech EarnUp have been publicly sharing their mental health challenges.
Now as companies place an intense focus on recovery and growth in the toughest of economic climates, more are beginning to question the status quo. That’s led several to adopt a co-CEO model — the theory being that they can double down on business recovery but without risking working one individual to the bone.
An eye on exponentially accelerating growth is what has prompted the likes of U.K. media company Jungle Creations, European venture capital firm Octopus Ventures and job sharing platform Roleshare to adopt a co-CEO model in the last three months.
All pairs at the helm believe that, despite delineating key responsibilities, what lies ahead sits beyond the scope, skillset and headspace of one person.
“Octopus Ventures has grown significantly over the last year and intends to keep growing, capitalising on a golden age of European technology investing. This was about building a platform for future growth to allow us to keep scaling effectively,” an Octopus Ventures spokesperson told Digiday.
That’s an attitude shared by Roleshare co-founders Sophie Smallwood and Dave Smallwood a husband and wife co-CEO team who left jobs at Facebook and Paypal respectively to launch the job share matching website.
Jungle and Roleshare co-CEOS both cited their partnerships’ openness as a way of alleviating some of the mental burden of being CEO. Jungle’s co-CEO Nat Poulter believes having someone to stress-test new ideas against leads to better success, while fellow co-CEO Melissa Chapman is convinced it makes for more effective, hands-on leadership.
For the Smallwoods, it’s an extra layer of confidentiality and vulnerability that not even your closest C-suite ally can offer — regardless of whether you’re married.
“CEO level is a lonely place to be. There are a lot of people who need things from you. There are few people you can share how you really feel with. You can’t always be upbeat and positive, and if you’re by yourself, you’re having to struggle with that alone. In a partnership, you can lift each other up,” added Sophie Smallwood.
That’s not to say the co-CEO model is a universal solution. Software firm SAP abandoned its co-CEO structure after just six months last year, stating “a lone CEO model” would “provide a clearer leadership structure” to tackle pandemic-related business challenges. Tire maker Pirelli’s co-CEO Angelos Papadimitriou also walked out in January after six months, said to be a mutual decision.
In the media industry, Charlie Crowe, founder of the Festival of Media and now a consultant, offers the example of agency Initiative. In the early 2000s it was run by CEOs Alec Gerster and Marie-Josee Forissier, who ended up splitting remits geographically. Crowe said it contributed to a lack of cohesion, resulting in a talented female CEO not realizing her full potential.
According to Steve Hyde, CEO of media and marketing executive recruiter 360xec, organizations thrive on a single leader employees and customers can rally around.
Hyde advised addressing one of the main boardroom issues that would lead to a business considering a co-CEO set up: a “lack of diversity of thought”. That would be an imbalance of left brain, analytical and logistics oriented leaders, like a CFO, CIO or CTO; versus right brain, creative, future thinking people, like a CMO.
“That’s the problem you might be sticking a plaster over, without digging deeper. If you do, you probably don’t need two people as CEO,” said Hyde.
Yet Jungle’s Poulter argues the complexity and growth of his business warrants the co-CEO model. “Covid has made people and businesses more open to change. With businesses like ours moving in this direction, I can imagine others viewing it as a viable option too.”
Cheat Sheet: At IAB Podcast Upfront, diverse voices take center stage while podcast advertising revenue and audiences boom
Most of the companies that presented at the IAB Podcast Upfront signaled they had or were going to add more diversity to their programming, both in hosts and content.
Member ExclusiveMedia Briefing: What media companies’ latest earnings reports say about the state of the industry
Media companies' Q1 earnings reports signaled a continued return to business as usual — for better or worse, depending on the company's digital business.
‘Brands tend to be selective’: OMG report offers options to media buyers facing upfront inventory crunch
With a tight upfront TV marketplace expected, one agency group is recommending alternatives in video and CTV.
SponsoredHow The Company Store is reimagining customer experiences for pandemic-era growth
Throughout the pandemic, some retail categories have been inherently successful. Home furnishings and décor are among them; with consumers spending so much more time at home, updates and renovations flourished. Criteo data from the first half of 2020 showed sales for items like outdoor furniture sets up 434% year over year, with other home items […]
‘Direct revenue driver’: How local broadcaster News 12 is partnering with Google to build a younger audience
Local broadcaster used support and funding from Google News Initiative to build a new tool that can automatically identify and feed video content into new website verticals.
Cheat Sheet: Children’s privacy law update adds pressure against Facebook’s Instagram for kids plan
A day after states' attorneys general called for Facebook to end its kids' Instagram project, a congressional bill was introduced to strengthen the country's children's privacy law.