Toby Russell was one of the first people to get Shift founder George Arison into used cars — and now he’s going to be running his company alongside him as Shift said today it is appointing Russell co-CEO of the company.
Arison said he was naming Russell co-CEO of the used car marketplace to help split off the role into what each executive would be best at, with Russell handling a lot of the internal operational side of things while Arison works on handling things like hiring, business development and managing its fundraising. It was a bit like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole with Arison trying to handle everything all at once in areas he wasn’t completely passionate about, he said, so that’s why they decided to make the change.
“We wanted an environment where we had these two swim lanes, and each person was able to execute in each one so we’re ensuring that there is success and management,” Arison said. “It’s very seldom where founders are very good at the same time as being big company managers. Most of the time it does not work out really well, that’s a reality. The skills that make you a really good founder don’t make you a very good executive on a large scale. Those are two very different skills.”
Russell has been with the company for more than two years and already held a big operational role within Shift prior to getting the title here. Shift called on a few people to assess what was going on internally at the company, Arison said, and the conclusion was to bring up Russell up as co-CEO of the company and hand over a lot of the management duties over to him.
While the notion of a founder perhaps not being the best to run a company as it begins to scale, a co-CEO setup is somewhat irregular as founders will often hand the keys over to a CEO who’s better at an operational level. But it has worked before, as is the case with Atlassian, which went public a few years ago and has had a pretty successful run since making its debut.
Shift’s area is certainly a challenging one, with a very obvious bust in the space in the form of Beepi (which raised $150 million). Having that kind of a specter weighing on the company as it is pressured to figure out the business of building a new used car marketplace may, in the end, require a rethinking of how its run internally so it is able to continue to come up with new products and strategies to continue to grow.
It doesn’t mean there’s any transition in progress to Russell as the sole CEO, Arison said, as he will handle the very public-facing elements of the company that were mentioned above. Instead, the move was more about installing “divisions of labor,” he said, to make the whole internal processes more efficient, being a part of the big strategy meetings and handling the rest while Russell handles more of the day-to-day.
“I’m here full-time, 16 hours a day every day,” Arison said. “That’s not in any way changing. I still have some very big deliverables for the business that I’m responsible for on a daily basis. We have a very clear division of labor, we’re calling those George’s lanes and Toby’s lanes. The exciting thing for me is I’m now gonna be able to focus more time in some areas where previously I would not be able to focus.”