Jury out on co-head concept

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But can this sort of job-sharing work? How can two very ambitious and talented people occupy the same space? Does having two or more 'equal' managers help subordinates or merely confuse them?

Jean Van Hoegaerden, a client director at Ashridge Management College, is among a band of sceptical commentators who point out that the co-head concept 'has hardly ever been seen to work'.

Nevertheless, he believes that it is too early to judge the idea, which 'may prove to be culturally influenced'.

In the short term, as many industrial sectors, including Europe's financial sector, are set to consolidate, the co-head will become increasingly common.

So how to make it work? Ravij Misra is co-head of credit derivatives at Deutsche Bank. He is based in London and insists that a key factor in being co-head of the department with New York-based Boris Gelford is the fact that they operate in different cities. 'It simply wouldn't work if we were in the same place,' says Misra.

Their co-headship of a key department is a reflection of the way that many modern investment banks choose to operate. As the markets open for trade around the world, so responsibility for a position is handed on across oceans and time zones.

There is an argument that a top position is bigger than any one person, needing global surveillance 24 hours a day.

Misra argues that the central plank of any strategy to make co-headship work is constant, clear contact.

'We have to have as much communication as possible. Every other day we set aside an hour just to talk to one another, whether we feel there is a pressing operational need or not,' says Misra.

Omar Bayoumi at Commerzbank is co-head of two departments: equity capital markets and mergers and acquisitions. He is aware of the cynicism surrounding the trend to appoint co-heads, but argues that there are good reasons why a joint-leadership role can be effective.

'This is the kind of business where if we get things working in a collegiate and partnership way, the co-head style provides significant pluses.

'If it works effectively, neither co-head becomes a full-time manager or administrator, which can be a hugely positive factor if the respective roles are carefully thought about,' says Bayoumi.

Gareth Rees, country head of management consultant Towers Perrin, agrees that precision and clarity are vital if the co-head strategy is to succeed.

'You have to proceed here with the utmost caution.The chances of the co-head idea working well are low.

'What you have to do is ensure that the co-heads share a similar view of the corporate identity and where the company is going, get on well personally and have complementary skill sets and preferences.'

But Commerzbank's Bayoumi stresses the need to improvise. 'This is a fuzzy logic business. Anyone who draws a highly complex organogram for a business like ours is heading into trouble.

'If you try and overdefine people's roles and go strictly by the rules it'll never work, because there are so many exceptions. What you can do is create an environment in which people can successfully co-operate.'

Ashridge's Van Hoegaerden agrees that co-operation is vital. He warns against the potential for conflicting loyalties - and the confusion within a department - that co-heads can create.

'It can work well, but if there are conflicting loyalties the goodwill can evaporate and it can be very difficult to operate successfully.'

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