Associate CEO — who are they and why you need them

Let me start by telling you a story about a Head chef. He wasn’t always the head chef — he started out on his own running a small cafe that served the best sandwiches. He would personally make all of the dishes right down to the last sauce. He knew exactly where to buy the right ingredient and he knew exactly how he wanted the dish to taste like. He would personally serve them to his favourite customers and observe their emotions. He knew the right questions to ask to make his sandwich better than the best. Naturally, the delicious sandwiches started attracting more people and the cafe was famous. The small cafe then grew into a restaurant and the Head Chef expanded the team by adding in a sous-chef, few station chefs and many cooks. They were making more sandwiches than ever and they were good. But the Head chef still felt like something was missing. Deep inside, he knew that he would be doing a few things ever so differently but he just did not have the time or bandwidth to convey that to everyone. There were simply too many teams to talk to and the chef himself was busy in administrating the restaurant. If only he had someone who can understand what he wants and work with the other teams to execute it the way he wants to… Enter Associate Head Chef!

If you haven’t guessed it, the Head Chef in the above story is our CEO. A man with a vision for each and every department in the company — right from product to finance. As the company grows, CEO hires external talented people and trusts them with a responsibility to run their function. No doubt that they do it well but do they do it they way the big man wants to? The major challenge here is that CEO knows what needs to be done but it’s going to be really hard to explain that to a battalion. In fact, some of what they want are just things they know, they feel and really difficult to put into words. My proposal is to create an Associate CEO. This person is the execution arm of the CEO — an arm that extends to quite a length. Why will an Associate CEO succeed when the CEO fails?

  1. An a-CEO will have more bandwidth Fewer meetings, more productivity.

  2. An a-CEO will have power, time and energy CEOs usually lack the time (sometimes energy too) and soon realize power doesn’t always get them everywhere.

  3. An a-CEO will have a direct line to the CEO The CEO now has to set aside only a little bit of time to catch up with the a-CEO and course correct where required instead of getting the hands dirty all the time.

An ideal a-CEO is a young professional (preferably NOT an MBA) who has a wide array of knowledge across verticals with excellent project management skills. It is really unfair for lot of young talented people to be forced into one function or vertical. I’m hopeful that a role like Associate CEO (possibly Associate Business Unit heads or any role that cuts across functions) will give an opportunity for doers to meet the thinkers!