It’s often mooted that a company only needs one CEO. Someone at the top who makes all the decisions, good or bad, and sticks to them. He or she has complete control and the buck stops there. The commander-in-chief, the standard bearer, the sole protagonist.
In recent years, many organisations have moved away from the traditional setup, with companies such as Samsung, Wholefoods, Deutsche Bank and Oracle opting for co-leadership.
Let me share with you the perspective from Hanami International, formed in June 2014 by Matthew Harrison and myself. In just 3 years we have placed several hundred Audit & Finance professionals in 60 cities throughout 30 countries. The team has grown from two founders to a 12-person operation, with plans to further grow by the end of 2017. Our co-CEO structure isn’t the only factor behind our success but it’s certainly at the heart of Hanami's company culture and has been instrumental in our growth.
A safe investment
Back in June 2014, investors were attracted to us because in essence, we had already scaled. Investing in a partnership was lower risk because we could support each other, we could both make placements and we could both generate income. Within a few months we were a PE backed business in the best possible position to grow.
As we grew, we were able to share the hiring responsibilities; one could interview whilst the other made placements. One could devise a training structure whilst the other developed our HR policy. One of us put the sales forecast together whilst the other analysed cash flow. Trust and consistent communication defined our process: we had mastered working in tandem.
A force for change
Adaptability crops up time and time again as a quality essential to entrepreneurship; if you don’t adopt new approaches neither you nor your company will flourish. Start-ups embrace change and have the distinct benefit of being small enough to evolve quickly. Having two CEOs means that our most important decisions are better informed, well debated and fully supported. A co-CEO forces you to consider alternative approaches, and to question your initial reaction.
When it comes to hiring, all too often you meet a prospective employee who appears to tick all of the boxes, only for your colleague to play devil’s advocate and flag potential issues that you’d failed to spot. Think of your co-CEO as a built-in devil’s advocate; you’ll challenge each other, develop both personally and professionally, and run a better business as a result. In most cases, a dual opinion halves the risk.
Once you’ve hired your employees, they are at the mercy of your management style. Regardless of your approach, some will love you and some won’t. Being a duo, a yin and yang, has a far greater chance of your employees being drawn to at least one of you. As long as you share the same vision and ideals, then it really doesn’t matter who they gravitate towards.
I could use a million clichés about two heads being better than one, about how we don’t rush decisions, how we are more balanced, how we can face the market and our investors with more confidence, how we can pick each other up when times are hard. However, I’m going to leave you with one thing most CEOs of medium-sized companies fail to appreciate, something they then really struggle with when running their own business, something they wish they could do but quite possibly they cannot without their business collapsing…
Being a duo allows us to have holidays, to see our wives more often and watch our children grow up! This final point – priceless. Thank you, Matt!
Written by Andrew Bell, co-CEO at Hanami International.
Hanami International is a specialist Audit and Finance recruitment consultancy with extensive experience of the UK & international markets.