The difficulty with joint CEOs

You may have seen that Zynga recently appointed a new CEO, Don Mattrick, and that founder Mark Pincus has stayed with the company as Chairman and Head of Product. Ben Horrowitz wrote a blog post in response saying that ‘shared command’ creates difficulties. Command at Zynga is ‘shared’ because ultimate decision making is now shared between Mark and Don. It can only be that way when Mark in his Product role reports to Don, but then Don reports to Mark in his role as Chairman.

The problem with ‘shared command’ which applies to joint CEOs as well as in situations like Zynga is that it slows decision making. Horrowitz explains it like this:

Depending upon the prism through which you view the business, your perspective will vary. If two people are in charge, this variance will cause conflict and delay. Every employee in a company depends on the CEO to make fast, high quality decisions. Often any decision, even the wrong decision, is better than no decision. These decisions are pulse of the organization. Sharing command almost guarantees that the CEO position will perform poorly in this dimension.

Speed is, of course, one of a startups greatest weapons, and anything that impedes speed should be viewed with suspicion.

There are, of course, a number of companies that have been successful with a joint command model – Google and Workday spring to mind – so joint CEOs can work, but adopting that structure makes success less likely.

As Horrowitz points out people go for shared command structures when they can’t decide who should be in charge. It is a compromise. It’s generally much better to find a way to decide on one leader rather than duck the choice and go for a compromise.



  • Richard Kelly

    Hunter Walk wrote an article on LinkedIn about this a few days back and Ben Horowitz replied to Hunter’s article. It’s a good read if your interested (Ben’s reply is 26 comments down from top)

  • Thanks Richard. Very interesting.

  • Richard Kelly

    Your welcome Nic.

  • Lautaro Vargas

    The key difference between Google and Workday’s joint leadership compared to Zynga’s is that in the first two they were also the founders, the dynamic between the two was carved out when it was just two people at the company – I wager much of the division of labour wasn’t even written down – at Zynga all of that needs to be worked through. There are other examples, such as Cambridge’s Red Gate Software, a very successful company with joint-CEOs who again were the co-founders.

  • Equal co-founders work better than shared leadership implemented later in a company’s life, but a single leader still has the better chance off success.