Market Overview

10 Reasons to Hire Five CEOs


Contrary to popular belief, there are many reasons to beef up your team of chief executives.

Most corporations only have one, of course. Hence the reason why he or she is referred to as the "chief" executive, and not simply an "executive." But companies could learn a lot from the multi-CEO platform, which has been implemented successfully at MOBI and Bluefish Wireless, whose team of five CEOs has helped both firms prosper.

"The five partners initially funded Bluefish with our personal IRAs and 401Ks," Michael Browning, director at MOBI and Bluefish Wireless, told Benzinga. "I think all in, we had about $175k in working capital when we started. Although the first years were extremely lean, we were able to survive on our revenues."

Browning said that he and his co-CEOs were in the "right place at the right time" around 2004, at which point a few key projects "helped us get past break even."

"We have grown the business completely organically since then, without any outside investors or debt," he said. "It's something we're enormously proud of. We rarely see startups that are able to accomplish real scale without giving a significant part of their equity away."

But in tackling the business on their own, there were some unavoidable struggles. "I do remember how difficult those first years were for us, as we all were just starting families and struggling to make ends meet," said Browning. "At the time, payroll was whatever we had left over in cash after we paid all our bills. At one point, I remember receiving a payroll check for $12. I never cashed that one and still have it somewhere. It was a stressful time for us all personally, but also an extremely exciting time as we were incredibly passionate about the possibilities for our business."

In the early days of Bluefish Wireless, Browning said that it was "difficult to get our foot in the door with companies of any size."

Sprint (NYSE: S), however -- which signed an exclusive deal with Bluefish Wireless -- "saw value in the technology and solutions we were developing," Browning explained. "We formed a strategic alliance. In turn, they would bring us in on those projects where our technology was a good match. This was good for us and good for Sprint – we got a seat at the table and Sprint was able to offer a solution that was differentiated from its competitors. A decade later, that partnership remains strong and healthy as we continue to expand the type of projects we collaborate on."

Bored with the Board

While Browning is one of five CEOs, he told Benzinga that MOBI and Bluefish Wireless have never had a board of directors. "We're involved in a number of companies outside of our own and generally think boards (especially advisory boards with no voting power) take too much time and energy to keep educated about the business," he said.

"Ultimately, the value they add is fairly insignificant. Our industry moves extremely fast, too fast for an outsider to understand the nuances that go into our strategic decision making. When we need specific advice, we'll seek out people we know who have that relevant experience."

The Five CEO Advantage

During our interview, Browning provided a list of the top 10 advantages of having five CEOs at a company.

  1. "Collaboration lends to extraordinarily well thought out strategic planning."
  2. "Odd numbers make for no ties, just like the Supreme Court."
  3. "It affords us each the time to focus on priorities outside the office."
  4. "Customers feel a sense of value in speaking with an owner. Five partners allows us to make those interactions five times as much."
  5. "We learn from each other every day. Over time, that momentum expands exponentially."
  6. "Working in the trenches of building a business, a special kind of bond forms beyond friendship. It's enormously rewarding to share those successes together."
  7. "Our friendships and management style has trickled down to help foster the kind of culture we believe allows us to attract and retain the best and brightest team members."
  8. "Personal relationships are everything in our business. Five partners allow us to divide and conquer in building those key relationships."
  9. "Mentoring our key people is important. With five, it allows us to pass a wealth of advice and leadership to the tactical managers who run our different divisions."
  10. "The camaraderie makes it incredibly fun. It's tough to remain passionate about what you're doing if it isn't fun to show up at the office every day."

Follow me @LouisBedigian

Posted-In: Bluefish Wireless Michael Browning MOBISuccess Stories Be Your Own Boss Startups Tech Best of Benzinga


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