2 companies bail on rare co-CEO setup

Handshake business deal executives
Sharing the leadership role at companies often causes conflict. (Pixabay)

The co-CEO structure is rare, and two companies recently did away with it.

In October 2017 a startup incubator 1776 and Benjamin’s Desk, a coworking network, announced plans to merge and keep their respective CEOs, Jennifer Maher and Anthony Maher, who are also in-laws. But on Monday, the company, which goes by 1776, announced that Jennifer Maher will be the sole CEO of 1776, while Anthony Maher will be chief growth officer and head of incubation.

“I’m excited to lead our team as we execute on our mission to build a dynamic company that serves our communities and provides the exceptional resources required for our members to thrive,” said Jenn Maher in a statement about 1776’s board of directors’ decision to make her the sole CEO. “There is a dramatic shift taking place in where and how we work, and in what it takes to build a business that lasts. 1776 is uniquely positioned to succeed because of our management model and relentless focus on the programming needs for growth-minded entrepreneurs.”

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The company is preparing to try out a new business model, according to a DC Inno article, that includes “adding rentable office spaces to its downtown campus, isolating the events space to allow for more daytime events and adding a hot desk rate to the membership offerings. In addition, 1776 is eyeing new cities to expand into, including Baltimore, North Jersey and additional D.C. metro area locations.”

Another company, law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, switched back to a single CEO a little more than a year after trying the two-CEO model, according to a May 7 Legal Intelligencer article. Tim Hudak will handle day-to-day operations, while Dorothy Davis, who had held the title with Hudak, will be part of the company’s executive and compensation committees and board of directors.

The firm’s 300 lawyers initiated the change after most said in a recent survey that they prefer one CEO. From there, the firm opted to revert back to a sole-CEO model.

Eckert Seamans’ executive committee voted Davis and Hudak into the top executive spot in March 2017, when former CEO Tim Ryan stepped down. Davis was the first woman at the firm to be CEO, and sources told the Intelligencer that she “made changes without communicating to others in the firm, including changes to practice group leadership that were not well-received universally.”

What’s more, sources said Hudak was largely hands-off in decision-making—something committee Chairman John McGinley said could have been a perception because Davis was “more vocal.”

Sharing the CEO role is generally not a good idea, a law firm consultant told the Intelligencer. “It could soon become duplicative, confusing and possibly even competitive,” Jeff Coburn said.

In 2014, former Oracle CEO named two successors—a setup that frequently “results in ‘negative performance by teams,’ and gives the two leaders ‘hostile mindsets,’ Lindred Greer, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, told Fortune at the time.