The popular depiction of the CEO is the titan of industry who rules with an iron fist. The CEO’s will is the employees’ command.
Not so at Supercell, a remarkable Finnish company that’s making $2.5 million dollars every day and has been described as “the fastest growing company ever.” Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen, calls himself “the world’s least powerful CEO”, and that’s not the surprising part. What’s incredible is that Paananen made himself a weak CEO by design:
This company beat even Zingerman’s which is reported to be generating over $50 million in revenue per year.
As its name implies, Supercell is organized as a collection of small, independent teams called cells tasked with developing new games or building new deep features for existing games. Cells are given complete autonomy in terms of how they organize themselves, prioritize ideas, distribute work and determine what they ultimately produce. Describing himself as the “world’s least powerful CEO”, Ilkka encourages cells to exercise extreme independence and prides himself on having no creative control over them once they are constituted. The company as a whole is merely an aggregation of these cells; a Supercell.
The only thing to say is that it’s working. Their organization and philosophy is letting this team of 100 take on the behemoths at Zynga, which has 30 employees to every 1 employee at Supercell.
The organizational and cultural design decision was purposeful: Supercell’s founders had witnessed first-hand “the downfall of too many companies that had turned into bloated, bureaucratic behemoths with many design studios in multiple time zones requiring massive management overhead and crushing hierarchies to coordinate.”
If it’s hard to fathom how an economic miracle could result under the leadership of a weak boss, consider another organization that designed its CEO to be powerless: the United States. The founders of America purposely set up the government to have a weak CEO, compared with Europe’s monarchs.
Having experienced misguided local tax policy decreed by a head of state thousands of miles away, the founders pushed decision-making authority out to a federated constellation of state governments, local governments, small groups of people, and individuals. That structure set the stage for the American economic miracle.