Someone should be really exceptional to serve as a CEO in two companies, don’t you think?
That what came across my mind while watching this (Arabic) interview with Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of the French Renault and the Japanese Nissan, in addition to being the Chairman and CEO of Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Mr. Ghosn is an exceptional leader indeed. He boldly stepped in and led a revival operation to save Nissan of its fatal destiny of bankruptcy back in the late 90’s. He is one of a handful of CEOs who reached a level of celebrity that is rare amongst his peers. He earned many nicknames throughout his distinctive career, “le cost killer” and “Mr. Fix it,” and recently, “the ultimate rock star of the auto industry.” His story was even turned into a Japanese comic book; that in itself is a big accomplishment given how sensitive the Japanese culture is.
Still, no matter how driven, brilliant, organized, and multicultural a leader might be, I find the idea of being at the top of two organizations a bit troublesome. Mr. Ghosn is not the first one to do it, the legendary CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, did it as well when he was in the driving seat of both Apple and Pixar at the same time.
I would argue that printing your name as the “CEO of X & Y” on a business card, or printing two different business cards for all I know, is not beneficial to neither X nor Y. No matter how superman-ly a person might be, it is near impossible for the human mind to bear the huge demands on its resources to be always present on two different fronts. These are two organizations; two different sets of values and objectives.
Steve Jobs should not be taken as an example here. Actually, he was barely involved with the day to day work of Pixar. Not only that, but he even confessed to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that his health issues started to appear during his tenure as a CEO of the two companies.
I think it takes a huge amount of narcissism to believe in oneself ability to run two huge companies. The problem is, this narcissism reflects badly on everybody else in the organization. Yes there are exceptional leaders who have certain qualities that qualify them to take their companies, and maybe their whole industries, in new directions, and Mr, Ghosn could be one of them, but under the shadows of those leaders, there are others waiting for a chance to show their abilities, to prove their talents. Under the spotlight of a one man show, those potential candidates will end up frustrated, demotivated, crawling out of the stage; and that the last thing a leader would want in his or her team.
The interviewer asked Mr. Ghosn about how it feels to be a leader of two huge organizations at once, he kept repeating that ‘circumstances dictated this situation, it was not an option!’ Even if we submitted to this ambiguous justification, we could tolerate it for a little while after the alliance was forged, but keeping the status quo for many years since then is a bit … outrageous!
Problems are starting to emerge in the realm of Mr. Ghosn anyway; few days ago, the COO of Renault decided to resign and leave the company. Before leaving, he dropped some shocking remarks about losing hope in taking the top spot in the organization because “Mr. Ghosn is here to stay,” he said.
The bottom line is … leadership is about delegation as it is about influence. Nurturing the second in line is fatal to any organization sustainability. There are some views that see narcissism as a major part of any leader’s personality, maybe a bit of it, but when it turns into a repellent factor, it becomes toxic and it threatens the future of any organization.