When it makes sense to have more than one chief executive

Being an only boss is great, but sometimes a co-chief executive may help you reach your goals faster

T08RF9 Middle aged businesswoman boss mentor training interns employees in office
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I received my first business advice when I was barely 10 years old. An elderly family member, who owned a few businesses, told me when you have more than one person managing a company, it will end up in a disaster.

When I started my first business while still a student at university, I decided to manage it completely on my own and not seek anyone’s help. I remembered my elderly relative’s words – perhaps because she fared well with her businesses – I thought that I should do the same. Little did I know at the time that while her idea is applicable to developed businesses, it does not always apply to the early stage start-ups.

A year or so after launching my business, I felt completely drained. I was in charge of strategy, creativity, managing my own media and public relations aspects and as online store. The creativity that made my products unique gradually waned. I got caught up in all the different areas I had to manage and I did not have a co-chief executive to help me with decision making. You can imagine what happened next; I had to shut down my business.

Fast forward a few years and I succeeded in managing a few more businesses. I, however, did not start on my own. I had a co-chief executive at the start-up phase and it made a tremendous difference.

I knew by then that the decision to run a company on your own or have a co-chief executive depended on which stage of the business you were at. During the early stages, for example, it makes sense to have someone with you, as it is overwhelming, and I strongly believe that two heads do think better than one. However, as your business grows and operations become more stable, you can think of who would serve as a chief executive and who could look after the other matters.

My experience in the past decade has taught me a few things to keep in mind when choosing a co-chief executive:

Take your time to choose the right person 

It is similar to when choosing a life partner, you have to make sure you are compatible. You do not have to be exactly the same. In fact, my business partner and I are the complete opposites in terms of personalities and yet we work so well together as we complement each other in so many ways. But whether you have many things in common or not, your vision and ethics have to be aligned. Find a co-chief executive who would pick you up when things are down, and who appreciates your strengths and reminds you of them when you are overwhelmed. Most importantly, you should trust each other. I would also recommend that you take as much time as it takes when choosing your co-chief executive, because the right person could help drive your business to new highs. The opposite is also true.

Set responsibilities and authority

In my case, because my co-chief executive and I are so different, our roles did not collide. We set the boundaries, clearly demarcating our tasks, and also had performance benchmarks in place. I managed the areas that I loved and was good at and the same was for my partner. That meant that instead of focusing on six aspects, I was focusing on three. Not only did that help me focus better, it enabled me to help my partner out when needed. I was able to offer a fresh perspective whenever help was required and it accelerated problem solving as well.

Prepare for their departure

Last but not least, make sure that you have a plan in place should your co-chief executive decides to depart. Agree on the value of the company and the share your partner would hold. Also, even if your co-chief executive is a friend or a relative, make sure to complete the legal work and have the right contracts and agreements in place to avoid conflict that could have a negative impact on your business.

Being an only boss is great, but sometimes, especially in the early stages of business, a co-chief executive may help you reach your goals faster.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi