I had the good fortune of being in New York City with my family a couple weeks ago and caught the Broadway play Wicked. In case you aren’t “in the know” (as I wasn’t) as to what the play is about, here is a brief blurb from the Web site:“Wicked is the untold story of the witches of Oz. Long before Dorothy drops in, two other girls meet in the land of Oz. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood [Elphaba]. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular [Glinda]. Wicked tells the story of their remarkable odyssey, how these two unlikely friends grow to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch.”
At Shiz University in the land of Oz where Elphaba and Glinda meet, we learn how the unlikely camaraderie between the two characters allows them to charm the rest of the school and essentially become the BWOCs (big women on campus). Glinda has a way of bringing out the dormant charm in Elphaba, resulting in her winning the heart of the BMOC, despite Elphaba’s Kermit-like complexion. Likewise, Elphaba’s tutelage opens Glinda’s eyes to more than the appearance of the people around her. Their combination is a powerful one.This state of affairs in Wicked led me to start thinking more about the failure of banks to make hard decisions and execute effectively. (Yes, I know – LOSER.) While I may get a rash of not so pleasant feedback from our loyal GonzoBankers, I am going to go out on a limb with a few unabashed observations on why, in general, banks fail to lead effectively and execute.
The yin and yang of CEO personalities naturally led to the question of: Why not a two-headed Hydra to lead the organization – a natural complement of Elphaba and Glinda where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?
Power sharing arrangements at the top are not new, but in the corporate world, especially in mid-size banks, they are a rarity. Most co-CEO relationships started either in family businesses or between co-founders of a business. Despite a general absence in mid-size banking (and credit unions), the arrangement is becoming more and more popular. Which companies have/had co-CEOs? More than you would expect actually. To name a few: Motorola, SAP; Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Century Bancorp; Hancock Bank (a rare mid-size bank exception); BofA, Citi, and JP Morgan Chase for many of their businesses; Schwab; National Bank of Canada; Research in Motion; Apollo Group; Concord EFS (until First Data took it over); Saxo Bank; and UBS’s Investment Bank to name a few. Golden West, in fact, before its acquisition by Wachovia, had both a co-CEO and co-chairman structure for over 40 years.
While this is too little space to go into areas like compensation, span of control, collaboration, etc., I want to highlight what is probably the most important topic when discussing this issue: What are some of the key factors a board should consider when thinking about a power-sharing structure at the top of the house? Here are the top five that a Gonzo board may find instructive:
Okay, you probably get the point — no one person possesses all of these talents. While I don’t believe the naming of Wicked co-CEOs that possess the strengths of both Elphaba and Glinda will cover all of the necessary bases, it is fair to say that they stand a good chance of covering twice as many with knowledge, experience, and the right personality/temperament for the situation.
While I am certainly not advocating that the co-CEO approach is right for every institution, for there are many pitfalls to this arrangement I did not discuss, I have been exposed to enough board discussions on succession planning to realize that the thought of power-sharing at the top is rarely, if ever, discussed. Boards, for some reason, simply don’t even entertain the notion. And in some instances, it may make sense. The co-CEO arrangement may be sticky and complicated and unusual and difficult to implement. But maybe, just maybe, it can lead an organization to improved Strategic Execution. As Elphaba might say, “it’s not easy being green.”
All for now.
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