Should every Tech Company have a Co-CEO?
Today Salesforce announced that Keith Block is to be the co-CEO of Salesforce alongside the self-made billionaire and internet entrepreneur, Marc Benioff. This is great news for the company looking to continually scale the business. However, this led me to ask the question if doubling up in the CEO domain should be the new model for all ambitious growth tech companies?
What’s the accountability split?
On Salesforce’s website, Benioff detailed what domains he and Block will each take lead responsibility on, Benioff focusing on vision and innovation and Block on growth, execution and operations.
Naturally, as the innovator and idea generator behind much of Salesforce’s successes and a well known philanthropist, Benioff will lead the more human side of the business in areas including marketing, stakeholder engagement and culture.
Strength in numbers
Placing two joint CEO’s at the top of a company reminded me of two sides of a brain working at their most optimum — one side programmed for creativity and the other for faster processing. Like having a right hand and left hand… One leader appears to be more focused on the soft stuff and the other the hard stuff of business. One more strategic and the other more process driven. One more human-centric and the other more machine. One more externally facing and the other internal. One more blue sky and the other with feet firmly on the ground. One of them using more of their innate intelligence and the other their learnt intellect. One heart and the other head.
The contrast is endless… but it seems to be working given that Block has been working behind the scenes at Salesforce for the past five or so years.
Does this mean tech companies should blaze the same trail?
Well, this depends a lot on the relationship, trust and alignment founder CEO have with their potential partner, their capacity, capability and where they naturally flow and perform.
I wonder if Benioff always planed to divide and conquer? Was he feeling stretched or did he simply have some clarity on what the business needs to grow to the next level? Perhaps all three, but I expect at some point, he had some fresh thinking around it.
To normalise the co-CEO model, many tech companies that are entering the scale up or expansion phase do end up bringing in a professional CEO via their venture capital firm that acts like a co-CEO to the original founder CEO. If you do a search on Google you will read accounts that suggest this is not the best model for a company…
However, Venture Capitalists Andreessen Horowitz believe keeping the founder CEO in position is all round better for the company as they are the ones who are the product innovators, while the professional CEO is best suited to the expansion and process side of the business. Quite a similar model to the one that Salesforce has adopted.
When scaling a company both sets of skills are essential — many companies fail as they are not able to execute on their ideas. So, the question is, can you do the role of the right hand and the left hand or do you specialise in the areas you naturally thrive and hire in the additional skills?
The answer to this question would depend on your own unique set of circumstances and what’s right for your company. I like the idea of not going with the status quo but stopping for a moment to reflect on where you are, where the business needs to get to and what support you need to get there.
Leading a company (especially if it’s your brainchild) can seem like a personal plight, but when you take the ‘personal you’ out of the equation for a moment and look to what the business needs to grow and prosper, it gives you a fresh lens to examine the business without getting all defensive.
Having a naturally curious and an open mind, staying focused, aligned and not being afraid to release yourself in some areas by bringing in help seems to be some of the key leadership qualities that have driven Salesforce’s growth. It’ll be fascinating to track SF’s progress over the next couple of years!!
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