Should I share the top job with my co-founder?

There should be only one CEO - even if you have to toss a coin, says Jeremy Bullmore.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 26 Jan 2016

Q: I am starting a small business and my business partner and co-founder wants us to be joint CEOs. He's very keen but I am not sure. Can you run a start-up this way - doesn't the buck have to stop with one person?

Jeremy says: As long as your small business remains a small business, it's just possible that you and your partner could be joint CEOs and still retain the ability to function. But, presumably, you'd quite like your small business to get less small and that means taking on staff. And that's when any doubts or ambiguity about who's in charge can have damaging consequences.

Sometimes people will quite consciously play politics; more often, and quite naturally, they'll appeal to whichever co-chief they think the more likely to be well disposed to their ideas. If every decision has to be deferred until the two of you can meet and agree, the whole machine clogs up quite quickly.

Alternatively, if each of you claims the right to make unilateral decisions, you'll soon breed awkward anomalies and inconsistencies. Your staff will be confused - and before you know what's happened, small though your business continues to be, it will have divided itself into two clear and unproductive camps.

Your instinct is right. There should be only one CEO - even if you have to toss a coin to decide which one of you it should be. (And don't even think of taking it in turns.)

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. Email him your problems at editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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