Co-CEOs: Pros and cons of sharing the reins

Dynamic duos discuss what it's like to share a leadership role.

Every plane has a co-pilot onboard, but nobody in a car wants a backseat driver in the vehicle. How do co-CEOs manage to share responsibilities without stepping on each other’s toes?

Campaign US chatted with a number of twosomes to hear the gritty details of these seemingly complicated relationships.

Find out the ups and downs of splitting the CEO role below. 

Terri & Sandy’s Terri Meyer

Much has been discussed and debated on the topic of co-CEOs.  From my point of view, everything depends on the individuals sharing the title and their unique relationship. Sandy Greenberg and I have been creative partners  (She the writer, I the art director) for over 25 years.  We often joke that our relationship has outlasted many marriages.  How have we managed this herculean task in the brutally competitive, fiercely political ad world?  We are true equals. So it’s only natural that when we started Terri & Sandy, we claimed the title: Co-CEO. 

Sure, it has lots of organizational benefits, like when either one of us is in a client meeting, they feel like they have "the top dog." But the true benefit is that it sends a signal to our company, and the industry as a whole, that neither one of us is more POWERFUL. We each bring the same level of talent, business acumen, and instinct to our company, albeit in very different ways.  Interestingly, we have never heard one comment, pro or con, about sharing the CEO title. Everyone just wants to know why "Terri" comes before "Sandy" in our company name. I always say, "It worked better with the logo." Hey, you’ve gotta win some battles.

Refinery29’s Justin Stefano and Philippe von Borries

Stefano: We’ve known each other since we were 16 and we’ve been Co-CEOs since we started the company at 25. 

Von Borries: We’ve literally grown up together and have known no other reality! 

Being Co-CEOs is bit like a marriage in that you don’t fully know if it’s going to work out but once you realize that it will, the partnership makes you infinitely stronger. 

Stefano: Our lives are seriously intertwined. We share an office and we take the vast majority of meetings together. We often take the first subway in and the last cab home (we both live in Williamsburg), and we’re still talking about work until the minute we part ways. That means that we can constantly bounce things off each other.   

Von Borries: I personally thrive on collaboration and the ability to run ideas by another person quickly is incredibly powerful. 

Von Borries: Of course there are moments when we frustrate and annoy each other. Justin is generally more skeptical and likes the details; I’m more of a big-picture-and-let’s-move person. We balance each other out.

Stefano: We both believe that you need to address an issue right away. Letting stuff sit is a recipe for disaster. 

Von Borries: Right, we never let an argument linger. (To continue that marriage analogy "never go to bed angry.") 

Fancy’s Katie Keating

Erica Fite and I have been co-running Fancy since we founded the agency in 2011. But we met as creative partners 10 years before that.

Having developed a creative relationship and then a friendship and then a business partnership means that we know each other’s quirks, idiosyncrasies, pet peeves, and work ethic quite well. In fact, creatives are probably uniquely groomed to be good co-owners of businesses, because we have grown up being co-owners of ideas. We also know what it means to have each other’s back, and to strive for the same goals.

In our particular relationship, as co-founders of a small, independent agency, the best thing is that we do not freak out at the same time. One of us is always capable of talking the other off the ledge. There is so much crazy in starting an agency, especially when you are two creative directors (and we all know how much business training creatives get as they move up the ranks in big agencies), having a partner who can see the big picture even when you cannot is a huge bonus. We often talk about how if we were going it alone, there are many times when we might have thrown in the towel and looked for creative director jobs at big agencies where all we would have had to do would have been to make the donuts instead of run the whole bakery. We are both glad that never happened!

Another great thing about running the agency together is having a sounding board—being able to throw out ideas and problem solve together. Again, we are used to this as creatives, but it is a skill and a privilege that we are so happy to have as owners of Fancy. Neither of us gets upset when the other says an idea won’t work, or a strategy isn’t right, we are used to working through the options to get to the best solution. Neither of us can imagine trying to do everything we do together alone.

Pitch’s Marisstella Marinkovic and Sara Bamossy

Marinkovic on pros: Having a partner gives you the ability to bounce any idea off of each other without judgment. You can have healthy debates, knowing the other person has the best of intentions because you’re in it together. Modeling positive and effective collaboration at the highest level of the company sets a great culture for the team.

Bamossy on pros: Playing to each other’s strengths means better decision confidence and continuous learning. It counteracts weaknesses and eliminates blind spots. Having the opportunity to collaborate at the highest level is more than just joining forces; it’s sharing the worries and the successes with someone equally invested. Two brains that can be in two places at once. Because one human can only be in/on so many planes, visits, or agency meetings. 

Marinkovic on cons: If the organization isn’t clear on the different roles and responsibilities, it can cause confusion. If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship/haven’t worked together before, this model would be much more difficult to implement.

Bamossy on cons: Being a good partner means checking in, which has the potential to cause delays unless you connect often and are aligned on the big picture. If you don’t have a unified front, it opens the door for someone to ask each person the same question in hopes of getting a different result. 

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