While most businesses rely on a single person to lead the way, the co-CEOs of Jungle Creations believe that two heads are better than one
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While the buck stops with one leader in the vast majority of organisations, the ultimate responsibility for the performance of digital media firm Jungle Creations lies with a pair of CEOs.
When Jamie Bolding announced that he would be stepping down in January 2021, having led the company since he’d founded it in 2014, Nat Poulter and Melissa Chapman – its COO and chief content and brand officer respectively – were both chosen to replace him.
“The transition happened quite naturally because the business had been run very democratically from the beginning,” Poulter says.
Explaining the decision to split the CEO role, he adds: “I think this is a better illustration of what businesses look like nowadays. There’s no single dictator at the top. Everyone now has a voice that can feed into shaping the company – it’s a lot less hierarchical.”
How does it work in practice?
The pair continue to oversee the sides of the business that they previously ran: Poulter focuses on the sales and agency functions while Chapman looks after publishing and marketing. Having these clear demarcations means that operations remain efficient and tactical decisions can still be made quickly, according to Chapman.
But both have equal responsibility for setting the company’s overall direction. “We have to reach a general agreement on the firm’s destination and its strategy for getting there,” Poulter says.
Although they admit that this can make some processes slower, as the biggest decisions cannot be made unilaterally, it ultimately leads to better outcomes, according to Chapman.
“The co-CEO model forces you to put the business’s situation first, rather than your opinions,” she observes. “You have to be open to other views and concede that your way won’t always be the right way.”
The pair are often asked whether they butt heads, but so far it has been a positive experience, reports Poulter, who adds that, while there have been “challenging points, it’s always possible to come to an understanding if you’re both trying to reach the same destination”.
Chapman observes that the mutual trust and respect they have formed while working together ever since Poulter joined the firm in July 2017 have been crucial in this.
“We don’t need to second-guess each other, as we’ve been working with each other for such a long time,” she says. “As long as we nourish our relationship by continuing to be candid with each other, we can be effective co-CEOs.”
The business benefits
Since taking the helm, the pair have overseen a 50% year-on-year increase in revenue and a 100% growth in underlying profits – figures that Chapman thinks are testament to the effectiveness of the new approach.
She adds that employee engagement has also improved in every aspect measured by its company-wide surveys, explaining that “the dual CEO model has afforded us the time to focus more on matters of wellbeing and culture, not just the finances”.
This is something that’s increasingly important for younger employees, according to Chapman. “Millennials and gen-Zers want their employers to be more empathetic and open to different viewpoints. Nat and I need to hold those values at the top level, which I think has benefited the wider culture,” she says.
Poulter adds that operating as a co-CEO requires interpersonal skills that “perhaps weren’t present in many of the archetypal business leaders of yesteryear. I couldn’t see someone like Sir Martin Sorrell [the former CEO of advertising giant WPP] working well in such a role, for example. Ultimately, this model aims to improve business performance by building trust and confidence. I hope that’s what we’re achieving here.”