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When the President and CEO Switch Places

Two reasons it might make sense for two founding execs to try on different hats for a while.
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Management and tech circles raised a collective eyebrow yesterday when collaborative programing site GitHub announced its president and CEO would swap places.

At its face, the move allows the president-turned-CEO and vise versa to focus on other ends of the business. By shifting into the president seat, Tom Preston-Werner gets to shift his focus toward the companies R&D side. New CEO Chris Wanstrath gets the opportunity to blaze the path forward and set strategy for the company.

What's the Point?

In their announcement, the duo said the shift isn't that big of a deal.

They said the company's hierarchy and use of titles has always been fluid. And Preston-Werner and Wanstrath were both founders of the company, so this is not the same situation as, say, a founding CEO hiring a more polished leader and graduating into something of an executive emiritus position.

Still, I can surmise two reasons that this will ultimately help both GitHub and the two execs in question--whether they factored into their thinking or not.

First, it has an obvious benefit in ensuring the company's leadership team remains aligned long-term. By walking a mile in each others' shoes, they'll better familiarizing themselves with different functions within the company--and thus better equipped to make decisions that could affect the entire organization.

This calls to mind a training strategy used at online market Etsy, in which new hires spend time with each division in the company as their orientation. The process is repeated for every employee each year, helping them better understand every facet of the company.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the two leaders might benefit mentally from changing their gears. Building a great company is a grind. The opportunity to shift their focuses figures to have something of a reinvigorating effect on Preston-Werner and Wanstrath. That's not to say they weren't enthusiastic in their current roles, but it's only natural to feel a spark when faced with new challenges. The position swap, then, might ultimately help to ensure each executives' own personal sustainability.

Last updated: Jan 22, 2014




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