The Pros and Cons of a Co-CEO Model
In this retrospective, I share my experience as a co-CEO and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of this management approach.
When it comes to the co-CEO model, someone remembers the Netflix experience and mentions Oracle. And some people mention Salesforce — a company that implemented the two CEO model, cancelled it and returned to it again. Proponents of the dual approach say that two heads are better than one. Opponents think the co-CEO model is doomed and that it's a temporary solution suitable for startups only.
Over the year with the dual model, we have achieved a 155% growth in GGR. In this retrospective, I will share my experience as a co-CEO and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of this management approach.
Why did we switch to the co-CEO model? In 2020, we expected growth and made plans to scale the business. In 2021, the number of employees had grown by 30%, and the complexity and capabilities of the technological solutions used in the product have grown too. For example, we finished the development of the Parimatch platform, which can process more than 20,000 transactions per second — this is four times more than our old platform could.
The global plans required a focus on strategic issues while maintaining the pace of growth without compromising operational work quality. So, the idea came up to assemble the Supervisory Board. The Supervisory Board aimed to balance the shareholders' goals, allow the C-level to focus on business development strategies and release management resources from daily operations. It was primarily because the competence of employees and the built-in processes made it possible to close issues without the CEO's participation.
Once, our former CEO, and now a member of the Supervisory Board, Sergey Portnov, said: "Any project needs an impulse. Pushing an idea is like rolling a rock up a mountain — it requires constant effort. As soon as you are distracted by operational work, the stone rolls back. The whole project turns into Sisyphean labour — which it shouldn't be."
When Portnov left the post of CEO and became the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Roman Syrotian and I shared his duties. At that time, we had worked in the company for more than five years and knew our areas well. Becoming co-CEOs, we retained our areas: I became responsible for finance, legal, communication and admin operating activities, and Syrotian focused on IT product and marketing operating activities.
Here are the pros of multiple CEOs:
Two heads are better than one
Syrotian and I have different life paths, experiences, education, strengths and weaknesses. But we complemented each other, kept our areas of focus and did not spray ourselves on every cog in the company's mechanism.
While I was negotiating with partners in Limassol for investments in the IT sector of Cyprus, Syrotian in Kyiv led the expansion of the Parimatch brand product line and the development of a new platform.
In making difficult decisions, we began to analyze deeply before deciding or raising an issue for consideration to the Supervisory Board. It was easier for us to arrange a brainstorm, where you can always ask someone for an opinion. We encouraged each other during demanding decisions or discouraged dubious undertakings. It is possible that somewhere we lost speed but got more reasonable solutions in return. And this is important, because the risks grow with the business.
Days become longer
We all know the feeling of a lack of hours in a day. Indeed, on one of those late-night work evenings, you thought it would be great to clone yourself and do twice as much.
The co-CEO model does not provide such an opportunity, but the number of working hours for decision-making increases. In addition, unlike a clone, with proper distribution of responsibility areas, you will get a better result, because everyone is responsible for their competence areas.
We've even got an inside joke: "Now we can hold parallel meetings in different parts of the world, and each of them with Parimatch Tech CEO." And this is true, because we make twice as many final decisions.
Deep dive into specific areas
No spraying. You immerse yourself in your areas of responsibility and develop in them. Then, you share the knowledge gained through the sieve of your business in general meetings —n o unnecessary theory, only the necessary knowledge here and now. Since Syrotian and I have retained our areas of responsibility, which do not directly intersect, we had no controversial points of influence.
Less dependent on one person
Let's face it — everyone goes through rough times. And when you run a business, business metrics depend on your condition and relationships with colleagues. In these hard times, your personal difficulties can slow down essential decisions, further affecting the business.
When there are two of you, then the risks become fewer. In unforeseen circumstances, you can cover each other or have a rest and spend time with your family without a permanent work process. There will always be an informed person with experience and authority at the helm.
This is especially true for making subtle decisions associated with personnel and reward systems. We paid particular attention to these issues and tried to reach a complete mutual understanding, which impacted the purity of the decisions made. As a result, with the dual approach, decisions are not made based on the subjective view of only one person.
Now, here are the cons of the co-CEO model:
Relations with shareholders become more difficult
There are fears that the co-CEO model will blur the line of responsibility, creating risks of failure to achieve the business goals. But for the presentation of reporting to shareholders, it is unnecessary to have one person from whom the result is required. You can also discuss results, risks and strategies with the dual-CEO model. If shareholders need just one representative, distribute this role between you and your partner, and work on it.
Syrotian and I were lucky with this. The peculiarity of Parimatch Tech lies in the fact that shareholders are involved in the strategic tasks of the company almost daily. Therefore, we can say that the transition to the co-CEO model did not introduce any changes but served as an impetus for the plan's implementation. We began to communicate with shareholders even more and synchronize as one team.
Possibility of confusion about roles and responsibilities
It's crucial to deliver a clear structure to employees to avoid future misunderstandings. Despite the clear instructions, it takes time to get used to the fact that another person is responsible for a particular development area. It could be a mess initially, but it will likely pass later.
Lack of speed
There are times when you need to make decisions on the spot, and every minute counts. In such cases, with the dual-CEO model, you might lack decision-making speed. It would require extra time to approve it with your partner for every vital decision. If you have opposite thoughts about the topic, add the time for a compromise. All these moves sometimes lead to missed opportunities.
Co-CEO is a temporary model
Indeed, the co-CEO model is used as a temporary solution for business restructuring or when companies go through stages of M&A and transformations. In such cases, the model works until these issues are resolved, and two CEOs act simultaneously — or the co-CEO model can work geographically to provide a physical presence in different parts of the world.
But what in this world lasts forever? The co-CEO model is subject to the same risks as the one-CEO model. With the comfort relations between CEOs, the competent setting of expectations along with the distribution of responsibility and authority zones, the co-CEO model will show its effectiveness in the future.
Nowadays, the co-CEO model is becoming more common — sometimes it is called a partnership, and sometimes one of the co-CEOs can be Chairman and so on. This approach is widespread in LLCs, law firms, accounting firms, VCs and early-stage technology and research companies.
If you are considering switching to the co-CEO model, here are some notes from my experience:
It is crucial to follow the common and unified business values — if there are any controversial points in the vision, they must be resolved overnight. Otherwise, it will lead to a split in the company.
It is critical to discuss and understand that one of the leaders will not try to "hog the covers." If there is a chance that it will happen, it will happen. But even in such a situation, there is a way out. You can follow the Salesforce path — they have CEO #1 and #2.
Forget about the multiple-CEO model if your company or brand is built on the founder's personality.
And finally, the co-CEO model could be a temporary solution. You can always switch back to lone leader if it fits better for your business. In the Parimatch Tech case, the war forced us to switch back to the one-CEO model, because we were in need to speed up the operational and decision-making processes and become more flexible. Now Syrotian is focusing on the business strategy as a Supervisory board member. As for me, the new war reality and franchise withdrawal from Russia forced business diversification and structural changes, so I will face these challenges together with my team as the CEO.
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