The Two-Headed Manager Sapient co-CEOs Jerry Greenberg and Stuart Moore have (almost) nothing in common. That helps explain why their relationship works.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Jerry Greenberg says his Harvard undergraduate education was long on theory and short on "anything that can be applied to anything"--even after he switched his major from philosophy to economics. The one exception was a course he signed up for across the river at the business school. "And what they taught me there," he recalls, "is don't ever--ever, ever, ever--start a company with two heads."
He did it anyway (you knew that was coming) and in 1991, with Stuart Moore, co-founded Sapient Corp., today a $247 million Internet services consultancy. So far, no regrets--just crazy growth, fat profits, an employee turnover rate that's half the industry average, an $8 billion market cap, and riches for Greenberg, 34, and Moore, 38, beyond all but the wildest e-dreams. Last fall both made FORTUNE's list of the 40 richest Americans under 40. By Christmas, their net worths had tripled to well past $1 billion each. So much for the value of a practical education.
Ever since the two former consultants--they met at what is now Cambridge Technology Partners--kicked in $40,000 apiece to get Sapient rolling, they have operated as one, sharing ownership (each now owns about 18%), job titles (co-chairman and co-CEO), even office space. Literally, an office. Both travel a lot--Sapient has 2,000 employees in 11 cities around the world--but whenever they're together at headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., they sit side by side in a glass-walled office at matching desks exactly 26.5 inches apart: more like two travel agents than two billionaires.
It's an unusual setup, to say the least. A company, like an army, wants a commander-in-chief, not a committee. Most other corporate co-stewardships that come to mind--think Sandy Weill and John Reed at Citigroup--are the byproduct of mergers. They imply compromise, factions, and instability. They raise the question Who's really in charge?
"I don't think power sharing is natural," concedes Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, the author with David Heenan of Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships. "I think it's very, very difficult." But not impossible. That's Bennis' next point. Moreover, he sees features in today's business landscape that make power sharing--whether between true equals or, more commonly, between a chief and a strong No. 2--increasingly a matter of survival. "The warp speed companies are traveling at," says Bennis, "the amazing number of alliances that are springing up, everyone's fear of being taken over by some disruptive technology--right now you need a lot of eyes. I don't think anyone can do it all."
So how do Greenberg and Moore function exactly? With "close to perfect complementarity," says Sapient board member and Harvard Business School professor Carl Sloane. Which is one way of saying they seem to have nothing in common.
Well, maybe one thing. Neither went to business school. Greenberg grew up on a 700-acre farm in New Jersey; his dad bought and sold dairy cows for a living. Moore grew up in a fancy suburb north of Boston; his dad was a corporate executive. As a boy Greenberg found two things fascinating: the family business and football. In second grade he begged to be transferred from a private Quaker school to the local public school so that he could start preparing for a career in pro football. Moore, on the other hand, has zero interest in football. He attended boarding school at the famous Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and dreamed of becoming a professional drummer. Greenberg, a bachelor all these years, finally got engaged in November to an actress; he drives a Porsche and has a home in Malibu overlooking the Pacific. Moore and his wife of nine years have four children and a fifth on the way; he drives an elephant-sized SUV and has a home in Manchester, Mass., overlooking the Atlantic. Greenberg is a Democrat, Moore a Republican. In the movie, Tom Hanks would play Greenberg. Moore would be tougher to cast; maybe Wallace Shawn with a gray toupee.
Neither makes an important decision without consulting the other. That said, the division of labor at Sapient reflects the depth of their differences. Greenberg is Mr. Outside. He took the early lead on sales and marketing. He deals with Wall Street. He presides over board meetings. Traditional CEO stuff. Whereas Moore, Mr. Inside, pays a lot of attention, as he puts it, to "people, culture, environment. How can we make this a great place to work and attract the best people?" Moore's also the only one who can talk to the techies in their own language. COO stuff. Except that Moore's other main interest is the big picture--strategy, direction, the evolution of the business model--while Greenberg is more of an operations guy, intent on execution. "Stu can get Jerry to step back," is how Sue Johnson, the CFO, describes the dynamic, "and Jerry can push Stu to act."
If it were as simple as combining complementary skill sets, of course, every company would have two heads. At least two other qualities must be present. One key is what David McClelland and David Burnham called power motivation in a landmark Harvard Business Review article first published 25 years ago. "Power motivation," they wrote, "refers not to dictatorial behavior but to a desire to have impact, to be strong and influential."
That's a pretty good description of what seems to motivate Greenberg and Moore. Another term the academics have for it is socialized power: the kind of ambition that finds expression and fulfillment not in gaining personal power but in leading great organizations. You'll hear Moore say, for example, that building a business is like "building a house or a cathedral--something concrete, tangible, that has impact and meaning." Both clearly seem more interested in what they can achieve together than alone. "My desires to create and lead a company are being fulfilled by this experience," says Greenberg. Moore says much the same thing: "I'd be very upset if Jerry left. I don't want to be the sole CEO. It's more fun to do this as a team. It's nice to have somebody to share with."
Another quality of successful co-CEOs is trusting each other, deeply. Years ago Moore and Greenberg took the advice of their lawyers and established an elaborate internal tie-breaking procedure, just in case. They've never had to fall back on it. Not because they always agree on everything; they don't. The recent decision to reorganize Sapient along industry lines is a case in point. Moore saw the need first. He wanted to create a set of smaller, more independent entrepreneurial business units that could develop expertise in their disciplines. "I was pushing very hard for that," says Moore. Greenberg resisted: "I was of the mindset that we didn't have the scale to do it."
In the end, they waited. Not because Greenberg was able to persuade Moore with the strength of his analysis. It's just that Greenberg, in this case, seemed more passionate about his position than Moore, so Moore backed off. "If one of us feels very passionate about it, more so than the other one, we'll often say, 'Fine, you want to do it that way, I'll go along,' " says Moore. So Moore waited. Almost a year. And eventually Greenberg came around. "It's worked out really well," Greenberg says now. "Well enough that I wonder if we could have done it earlier."
Moore calls their relationship a "professional marriage," an interesting choice of words because it implies something fuzzy and ultimately inexplicable at the core of their odd-couple relationship. Let's just say it works for them.
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