A number of challenges can arise when a company has two chief executive officers, among which is the not-so-small matter of deciding who’s in charge of what. But Pete Morrison and Arthur Alexion, co-CEOs at simulation software developer Bohemia Interactive Simulations, decided to keep things simple.
“We really just split up the workload,” Morrison says. “Arthur runs the day-to-day business, he runs the senior management team. I’m very much focused on products and product roadmap. So we’ve sort of divided the responsibilities.”
Chief Executive spoke with the two CEOs about the importance of communication in their relationship, the challenges of managing a global organization with offices on three different continents and how their leadership styles have evolved in their roles.
Communication is key
Morrison: We talk every day and we’re in constant communication. Obviously, these days that’s easier than ever before. But generally, I also do a lot of customer-facing work. I guess that’s the other key part of my responsibilities. I’m doing business development here and there, the face of the business and such. But we talk every day about a wide range of topics. I have the freedom to kind of dig into any aspect of the business. And that does, as Arthur says, require a lot of trust. So if I see an issue somewhere, I’ll raise it up with Arthur. And that’s actually proved to work quite well.
I was actually one of the company founders and I’ve been with the business since 2005. So it’s good because I’ve got a bit of historical knowledge, and then Arthur’s coming with a lot more experience at managing a growth business. So it’s actually worked quite well. And the other point I’d make is that Arthur also has the ear of the investors. So Arthur’s the one who communicates with the investors and manages that relationship.
Alexion: Pete is absolutely the person who kind of leads the vision for all the products. And that’s a huge part of our business—we’re a product-based business. And we don’t just run after government contracts and take services work, we actually build products.
And so that vision is Pete’s, primarily. But because we chat every day, it’s also my vision as well, frankly. So it’s a very easy. When something’s written down, and Pete’s writing down, “This is the way it is,” generally speaking, it’s 90% already kind of pre-agreed between us, because we chat so often.
“What we do have is a common set of values, and a common DNA, which sits across the business. And at manager level, those are things which people need to buy into—they’re not optional.” – Arthur alexion
How their leadership styles have evolved
Alexion: For me, this is the first time I’ve worked in a co-CEO role, specifically. But for many roles previous to this one, I’ve worked in a somewhat similar type of role where I’ve been, for example, given titles like “Deputy Managing Director to the Managing Director.” Or in the case of the previous role before that, I was running the international side of a business.
So how my role has evolved slightly here is I think this is the first time where we’ve literally split the same role. So I’ve definitely had to be less of the lone wolf, and more collaborative than I have been in previous roles where I was, obviously, focused on my piece of the business. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing that’s evolved, certainly through this role.
Morrison: For me personally, I went straight from the Australian Army to working in a leadership role within Bohemia. And I was the CEO from 2007 to 2013 when Arthur took over co-CEO. For me, it’s been a huge learning curve. I didn’t go and get an MBA, so I’ve just had to learn everything the hard way.
In general, I’ve tried to stay as close as possible to the employees. I would say in general, we try and keep a very flat structure. We try to make it feel like a game company. And we don’t have a really deep management structure. It’s important, I think, within in this type of business. because we run teams of creative people who are used to working in those types of cultures.
Maintaining company culture in a global organization
Alexion: I think, inevitably they don’t have the same culture across different offices. So there isn’t a completely generic culture across our business. And there’s no point in aiming for that, because generally speaking, the Czech office has mostly Czech people in it, and the English office has mostly English people in it, and so on. And obviously they have their own kind of particular quirks, country-by-country, particular kind of characteristics. And so you just don’t get the same, fully generic culture across the business.
What we do have is a common set of values, and a common DNA, which sits across the business. And at manager level, those are things which people need to buy into—they’re not optional. Some people might not like the values. And if they don’t like the values, they should leave the business, if they’re managers. Because the values are what we believe are the things that we believe, “If you do these things, we will be successful.”
You don’t need to focus on making profit, you don’t need to focus on winning a particular customer. If you focus on these more general things about how the business should be run, we believe that we will be successful as a result. And how have we done that? I mean last year, I personally met every single person in the business to talk through the values and the DNA of the business and what they thought about that, and had some quite, not one-on-ones but one-on-fives. Let’s say one-on-fives to one-on-tens.
So I had a week-and-a-half of meetings, two to three-hour meetings with everybody in the whole Bohemia organization group, across the world, mostly face-to-face, and we went through those things. So we’re trying to encourage people to live by those values and then by living them by example. Engaging with people to understand what they think is bad about the values, whether they agree with them, and to what extent.