Can You Be Both a CTO and CEO and Be Successful?

CEO and CTO are roles that carry big responsibilities, especially in large organizations with thousands of employees. The CEO defines company vision and makes sure that the business stays on track in fulfilling that vision. That Executive focuses on the company growth strategy as well as operations and the business communication towards the business executives, media, and third-party stakeholders.

The CTO focuses on executing technical aspects of the company vision, such as building out necessary infrastructure, hardware selection, software selection and architecture, product development operations, and technical communication towards the business executives, media, and third-party stakeholders. Ultimately, job titles are quick ways to describe what responsibilities you hold for a particular organization. Depending on the organization, a company may or may not need a CTO. In some cases where a CTO is needed, a separate person acting as CEO must focus on the overall mission and vision. One person can’t micromanage the technical aspects without losing ground in other key areas for company growth.

Wearing Many Hats

A large amount of what we do at Project Assistant (PA) involves newish startups, so it’s common for me to hear about people wearing many hats or having a broad spectrum of responsibilities. When I first started at Project Assistant, I worked day and night as a web designer, web developer, social media guru, blogger, bookkeeper, lead gen, sales, account manager, and HR. Eventually, I hired for design, development, marketing, content management, project management, and HR. This allowed me to focus more on company vision and direction related tasks and new business development, which is critical for a company whose primary goal currently is to service clients. Although I hope to pivot PA into having sustainable internal projects, our vision is to service clients. I’m currently focused on new business development for PA; yet, I have enough free time to manage the technical aspects of several client organizations.

Gaining Insight

Being the CEO of PA for over eight years has given me first-hand experience in listening to stakeholders’ technical problems so I can provide them with a solution. The nature of PA’s services requires that I have a deep understanding of our clients’ organization in order to meet certain business goals. I’ve worked across a variety of industries such as real estate, education, food, government, and health.

When working with our clients, in many cases, there’s someone such as a technical lead or content manager within a client’s organization who manages what PA will do for them. However, when I put on my CTO hat on behalf of the client, I am directly accountable for the technical solutions I prescribe. Not only that, the team I hired and trained for years is responsible for the implementation. There are multiple levels of risk and reward happening simultaneously, and I suppose this is no different from the experience of other CTOs.

PA’s retainer agreements are not open-ended in situations where I take on the title of CTO. There’s always a section that describes how, at some point, I must build the internal IT team for the client’s organization which is basically a mini-version of Project Assistant, tuned specifically for their needs. I also have to provide a certain level of account management oversight to ensure PA’s product/service level is maintained while working together to solidify the long-term relationship and investment from both parties. At first that sounds simple enough to do, but in reality, not everything is as easy or straightforward as it looks.

Conflict Of Interest

Conflict of interest is not unheard of and happens in the best of situations. There is always a strong possibility that client toolkits and methods might conflict with my own. If it becomes difficult to adjust or balance the two, perceived expectations for the CTO may change over time or become realized too late. There are many conversations that take place ahead of time and a strict agreement should protect everyone involved. One option might be that I am to recuse myself from certain meetings to prevent making decisions that may arise in a conflict of interest. The best option is to make sure that all expectations are set in stone ahead of time and proactively communicate any change or deviation from initial expectation to help eliminate any chance of an ugly break-up before the agreement terms ends.

Can a CEO Perform Jobs in the Same Organization?

No one says you cannot do both the jobs successfully. If the CTO can build a vision for the business, inspire people to execute it, and has a charismatic personality, he/she may be qualified to handle other job responsibilities. While this isn’t common, there is no hard and fast rule preventing one from doing so and it could accelerate the growth of an organization, especially startups. Similarly, if the CEO has the necessary technical skills and caliber to provide the leadership and guidance for taking care of the technical aspects of work, then he or she can wear the CTO hat as well. However, this is easier said than done. Satisfying the needs of one role is difficult enough, but satisfying both of them is a complete anomaly. In trying to take care of one aspect of your role, the other is bound to suffer if your company is a large organization.

On the flip side, if yours is a relatively small venture, you don’t have to muddy the waters by overusing the “chief” titles. This will allow you the freedom to wear whatever title you want, whenever you want. As the organization expands, changes will have to be made to cater to the increasing demands of the evolving roles. That is when you will need to make a distinction between the CEO and CTO.

Working CTO In Another Company - Is it a Conflict Of Interest?

Ideally, yes, there is potential for general conflict of interest. But this hasn’t happened yet in my case. Fortunately all parties involved are mature enough in their business acumen to have signed off on a mutually beneficial agreement that meets the requirements of both organizations to conduct business together just as you would with any other organization. A proper, detailed, and well-worded contract can make all the difference.

Closing Thoughts - My Experience

Being CEO of Project Assistant and wearing the CTO hat on behalf of clients, I can say without an ounce of doubt; it is possible to be both CTO and CEO and be successful. However, what you need is an ironclad agreement or contract in place to clearly outline your duties and responsibilities and also state how the conflict of interest situations will be handled. Once the boundaries have been defined, it is easier to work within them and achieve success.