One year ago, I made the biggest move of my career and joined Kablamo as co-CEO.
Not only was shared leadership new to me, but from the outset it was clear Allan and I were very different people.
Allan brings the creativity and technical vision to our team. His insights into areas like artificial intelligence and running Agile at scale are mind blowing, and the right kind of crazy. He can take the esoteric and make it accessible, pushing all of us to think deeper, farther.
My strengths? Let’s just say I leave that kind of creativity to Al. I know how to build and scale businesses, plan and execute strategies, and keep organisations and people happy as they strive for greatness.
Human instinct being what it is, the initial reaction is to push away from this kind of personal difference in a co-CEO model. It can be a scary leap into darkness for both people. The “visionary” can worry that the “manager” mind might over-manage and constrain —becoming an idea killer, a clipper of wings. On the other hand, the manager may worry that the visionary will be impossible to channel in a way that can deliver consistent customer outcomes and meet payroll each week!
Long story short, between my unfamiliarity with this shared approach, and the fact we’re both such polar opposites, I was nervous about what lay ahead.
While I’ve started with the differences, for the co-CEO model to work there must be some critical similarities – similarities which are values-based, not financial.
For Allan and I, nurturing a strong values-led culture at Kablamo is a principle neither of us will compromise on. We have rock solid alignment around the type of business we want to build, how we want to treat people and how we want to be treated in return. We’d rather walk away than build a shitty, transactional company and culture filled with uninspired people who are just there for a paycheck.
And this brings me to another critical point: Ego. A healthy confidence and belief is one thing, but for the co-CEO model to work, you need to have right-sized egos that are willing to accept imperfection, share success and to learn from failure. In that sense, it’s not for everyone. Needless to say, trust —and a lot of it— needs to be a big shared value between both leaders.
So, what’s been the result for Allan, myself and the Kablamo team in our first year as co-CEOs? By embracing our differences, Kablamo has grown far beyond what I thought possible when I first agreed to share the CEO role. Our varied skill sets allow us to focus on the areas we excel, which has helped lead to strong organisational growth.
In fact, 12 months on, it’s clear our differences are one of the biggest benefits of this co-CEO model (in a future post, I plan on digging down into this a bit more).
Not only has our customer base significantly expanded to include some of Australia’s largest media, financial and industrial organisations, we’ve more than tripled our staff numbers to accommodate the demand.
While growth is important, what matters most to Allan and me is Kablamo’s culture. We’ve developed a strong set of values and a vision for our future. We’ve also grown and evolved our leadership group on our mission to become a high performing team. We’ve started our employee benefits program, and launched our giving arm, Kablamo Impact. We want to build a good company, not just a financially successful company.
Underpinning this all is our focus on building a world-beating culture. Our secret sauce is our people. Day-in and day-out, this team is delivering truly transformational digital products and outcomes in some of Australia’s largest and most well-known organisations.
And their hard work is being recognised. Earlier this year, we were named as finalists at AWS’s Partner of the Year awards for Data, Analytics and Machine Learning.
Now with a solid foundation built, and much more confidence in our shared leadership model, this next financial year will be the most exciting in our history… stay tuned.
Even if you’re not ready or convinced by the co-CEO path, consider giving shared leadership a try, if only in a limited way —sometimes going against your human instinct can pay off.