First, the news hook: Samsung this week appointed consumer electronics head Boo-keun Yoon and mobile lead J.K Shin as co-CEOs of the company. SAP has been running under this model since 2010, when Bill McDermott, SAP's head of field organisation and Jim Hagemann Snabe, head of product development, were named as co-CEOs. BlackBerry (formerly RIM) had co-CEOs until a January 2012 company shake-up.
Those are massive companies. Samsung is just beginning its co-CEO journey, but the company certainly has major momentum. SAP has performed well under its co-CEO structure, regaining momentum in the corporate IT software market while pushing into SaaS applications. But BlackBerry nearly died under its co-CEO organization.
My own experience is on a far, far smaller scale. When my business partner and I launched Nine Lives Media in January 2008, there was no CEO. I focused on editorial content and platform development, while my business partner Amy Katz focused on business development. But about three or four months into the business, it became clear that Amy was handling more and more of the core CEO duties. Plus, we needed to speak with a clear voice to the market about who was actually running Nine Lives Media. The answer was clearly Amy... so she became CEO.
It was a natural transition but I suspect manage small business co-founders struggle with similar decisions. Often, co-founders have similar skill sets -- particularly in the technology market. So it's not clear who should actually run the company.
I'm not suggesting the co-CEO title is a bad thing. Regardless of the approach, I think each executive leader needs to have a clear role and responsibilities. Employees, partners and customers need to know which executive is calling the shots for each piece of the business -- regardless of the employee titles.
It begs the question: If SAP or Samsung suffer from an earnings shortfall or lose momentum, who is ultimately responsible for that setback?