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The Benefits of Two-Headed Leadership

A co-CEO arrangement can mean better governance and built-in coaching, says Scotiabank's Mike Durland

The Essentials

Mike Durland is Group Head and Co-CEO, Global Banking and Markets, of Scotiabank. Durland earned his PhD in Finance at Queen’s School of Business and sits on QSB’s Advisory Board.  

In conversation with QSB Insight, Durland discusses the benefits of sharing CEO duties with a trusted colleague.


Video Highlights

0:15    On the upsides of shared leadership:
For the past six years, Durland has shared the CEO position of Scotiabank’s Global Banking and Markets with Stephen McDonald. There are benefits, he says. “We have a good relationship and it acts as a built-in governance mechanism. When he has a certain thought, I can challenge his thinking, and when I have certain thoughts, he challenges the way I think about it. That’s helped us make better decisions. . . And we actually mentor each other. He acts as a coach for me on the issues that he’s passionate about, and vice versa. We have to be willing to have that relationship. A lot of times, co-heads compete with one another and build silos.”

1:50    On the downside:
“The downside of the co-head structure is that you tend to have more of a challenge building a single culture.”

2:12    On managing the relationship with your co-head:
“It’s healthy debate. We’re very transparent with respect to one another. I’ll sit down and say, This is what I’m thinking. He’ll say, I don’t like this about that. . . Respect is very important.” Though they have areas of focus, on issues of shared interest, “we will grind it out, we’ll sit and try to identify a middle ground.”

3:02    On the importance of chemistry:
“Randomly selected co-heads, I don’t know what the probability of success is, probably not high. . . We deal with relatively complex subject matter, business is quite transactional. Both Steve and I have to be relatively hands on. We have to be very efficient with our time, to make hard decisions frequently. If you have good chemistry between the co-heads, it lends itself to that structure.”

Interview by Alan Morantz