Shared leadership

George Meyer, Jim Rasche, Jill Morin

(Three executive officers)
Kahler Slater Inc.
Industry: Architects serving clients in health care, higher education, hospitality, business, retail, sporting and related fields.
Employees: 120

Kahler Slater Inc., a Milwaukee-based architectural company, has three chief executive officers. This “3EO” model of shared leadership has served as a blueprint of ongoing success for the company. George Meyer, one of the company’s co-CEOs, shares his insights about how the model functions.

“Kahler Slater has had co-CEOs since 2001, and we make decisions unanimously. The process has forced us to be more thoughtful, creative and thorough in our decision making. We each bring different expertise and perspectives to our work, so we cover more ground from more angles than any one person could. It also leaves us enough time to continue working extensively with clients. This is important in an industry where clients want to work with executives.

“When a broker approached our firm in early 2004 with an opportunity to acquire Performa Higher Education, my first instinct was to say, ‘No way.’ In fact, each of Kahler Slater’s three co-CEOs – Jill Morin, Jim Rasche and I – would have passed if the decision had been just ours to make. Kahler Slater was growing again after the post-2001 building slump. We had recently bought out our senior partners. The idea of taking on new debt, merging two established organizations and deviating from our strategic plan to make an acquisition had little initial appeal.

“Fortunately, the decision fell to us all collectively. Jill, Jim and I agonized over the costs and benefits of acquiring Performa Higher Education. In the end, we made the purchase, and Kahler Slater instantly became a national player in the higher education consulting arena. Now, in addition to offering ‘place’ design services to our college and university clients, we can help them address the total student, parent, faculty and administrative experience with consulting services in institutional strategic planning, enrollment management, marketing, advancement, academic and student affairs, search assistance and campus master planning.

“In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions in our 100-year history. Since adopting the ‘3EO’ model, Kahler Slater has grown boldly. We have become a diversified total experience design company. We opened an office in Singapore last June and work across the globe. We have appeared on HR Magazine’s ‘Best Companies to Work For’ list for the last six years. Perhaps some companies would find shared leadership cumbersome. It has made Kahler Slater smarter, more agile and more open to new ideas.”

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