Although most entrepreneurs hire a second-in-command to take charge of operations, some prefer to have a small team report to them instead. Some entrepreneurs think there are too many tasks, or too many chores that require different skills, for one person to handle. Others like the arrangement because it lets employees know that the entrepreneur hasn't handed off authority. "Often an owner isn't going to want to be perceived as giving up some control, as he or she would have to if there were a clear No. 2," says Steve Katz, an independent executive coach in Potomac, Md. But most experts say the team approach is almost always temporary, since it doesn't fully free the entrepreneur of the duties that come with being both CEO and COO.
Working with a team presents its own challenges. Each member of the team should have enough responsibilities and clout to manage autonomously, says Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of executive search firm Trilogy Venture Search in Burlingame, Calif. "Only do it if you can have a level playing field on which these people can operate," he says.
Jeff Johnson, chairman and CEO of 15-person Cano Petroleum, has decided three deputies are better than one. The $5 million Fort Worth company's second tier includes the chief financial officer, the head of oil and gas engineering, and the general counsel. "One person can't head all of that," says the 40-year-old Johnson. "We'll do well if I keep us pointed in the right direction. And if I get so focused on naming one guy, you don't know what tomorrow holds, and it might be the wrong choice." Cano insists that he is "fully available" and that there's no need to appoint someone to take over for him in emergencies, as his board would step in.
Michelle Boggs, CEO of McKinley Marketing Partners in Alexandria, Va., also has a three-person team -- President Marcia Call, Vice-President for Finance Bruce Prouty, and Director of Operations Carmen Zawodny -- reporting to her. "If any one of us is out, it doesn't stick a dagger in the heart of the organization," says the 45-year-old Boggs. Still, Call may be first among equals. As part-owner of the nine-person, $10 million company, she would be the logical choice to pinch-hit for Boggs in an emergency. And, at least temporarily, to seek her own No. 2.