two CEOs instead of one, the atypical choice of these start-ups, The community

Salesforce has a familiar face: Marc Benioff. However, the software publisher’s charismatic boss is not alone in charge. He shared the management of the company, which he co-founded in 1999, with another CEO for several years. Since late 2021, COO Bret Taylor has assumed this role. Such two-headed governance is rare in the tech world, and even more so among startups.

Malt, the liaison platform between freelancers and companies, has just appointed Alexandre Fretti, until now managing director, as co-CEO. Thus, he shares the power with the young man’s co-founder, Vincent Huguet. “We had this informal operation for two years. For example, we jointly present the results to shareholders. Let’s say we lived together before we got married”, image Alexandre Fretti.

“Super powers”

The two men now meet every Monday morning for a two-hour breakfast. The goal? Take stock of the previous week’s topics and align them with the next steps. Each has a very defined role. “I manage the present and tomorrow while Vincent manages the day after tomorrow. Management is more at home, technology and product at home”, summarizes the boss.

At Pigment, a financial planning tool, roles are also well defined. Romain Niccoli, also co-founder of Criteo, takes care of technical and product matters, while Eléonore Crespo takes care of the rest. The start-up, which from day one opted for this duality, did not always hear positive opinions about this mode of governance.

“In many people’s minds, there always needs to be a decision maker. But having two CEOs gives you superpowers. Ultimately, being two allows you to offer more time, whether for employees or people outside the company “, underlines Eléonore Crespo. “It’s also an advantage not to fall into loneliness,” argues Olivier Duha, head of the Webhelp group, which made this choice when it was created in 2000.

Leave the ego aside

Neoinsurance Lovys has opted for a rotating co-CEO. Every six months, a member of the team shares the reins with the co-founder and works on a major project of their choice, which is not necessarily related to their area of ​​expertise. The current co-CEO is insurtech’s chief marketing officer, and has chosen to embark on HR themes – reviewing corporate values ​​and mission, for example. “It is important to have a fixed hierarchy. It’s a bit like in the European Union, each country contributes every six months to making Europe richer”, compares João Cardoso, head of Lovys.

Eléonore Crespo even thought of forming pairs ahead of the start-up’s departments. “But it’s less easy to do because people have to get along. We cannot force them to work together,” she underlines.

For a duo to work, you have to have compatible personalities🇧🇷 “We must not force fate. You can’t structure a tandem if it doesn’t structure itself naturally. It’s like in a love story, you can’t force a marriage. The choice should be obvious”, observes Olivier Duha, who has been “single” again at Webhelp for several years. And above all, you have to put your ego aside. “The company’s performance must come first”, says Alexandre Fretti.

End up alone?

When it comes time to make decisions, not all leaders interviewed have the same approach. in malt, it’s a commitment🇧🇷 “We don’t agree on everything. We debated and ended up making the best decision. A decision that is better than if we had taken it individually”, explains Alexandre Fretti. At Webhelp, there were also two. “Big decisions were taken quite naturally. Of the ten decisions that we have to take it during the day, naturally we have to agree with nine and discuss the tenth, otherwise it becomes unmanageable”, emphasizes Olivier Duha.

The bigger the company, the more difficult it is to make decisions together? “When the company grows, it needs to structure itself. We go from a VC world [capital-risque, NDLR] to private equity, which prefers traditional governance models,” says Olivier Duha, director of a company with 100,000 employees. However, the entrepreneur did not abandon the idea of ​​an organization with two heads as the French activity of Webhelp is managed by two people.

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