Dual chief executives aren’t the most common org structure out there, but there’s been more experimenting with having two leaders at the top. Just this past Friday, Alphabet’s electric car maker Waymo made a surprise announcement that they are shifting to a dual executive model.
Last year, Netflix shocked the business world by promoting Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos to co-CEO, a move that the Wall Street Journal described as “rare, “counter-intuitive,” and “out-of-style.” But Sarandos’ move didn’t seem to hamper growth. The company just passed a milestone of 200 million subscribers, and announced in its 2020 Q4 earnings they are “very close” to being free cash flow positive.
Headquartered in Los Gatos, California, co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos have built an empire of digital streaming content on the backs of a DVD mail-order business. Netflix’s global reach for entertainment is vast, and last year brought in over $25 billion in revenue, up 24% from the previous year. It has markets in every continent and can be streamed in 190 countries.
Hastings, founder and co-CEO, oversees day-to-day business operations, while Sarandos, Chief Content Officer and co-CEO, practically runs his own production studio.
Both execs have been working in tandem since Sarandos joined the company in 2000 and together lead a team of 9,400 full-time employees. They’ve been extremely intentional, if not ruthless at times, about building out a top team of leaders to guide every facet of their media conglomerate, and have even been embroiled in two legal battles in the past five years for poaching top industry players at competing Hollywood studios before their contracts ended.
One of those execs is current Netflix CFO, Spencer Neumann. Neumann caused quite a stir at his former studio Activision Blizzard, home to the popular video game Call of Duty, after the company sued Netflix for knowingly poaching Neumann and breaching his contract. Neumann now uses his prior CFO experience at Disney to grow the already massive list of the 203 million Netflix subscribers and focus on the production financials. (The company is estimated to have its content budget surpass $19 billion in 2021.)
Going down the list of people with power on Hastings’s team is Rachel Whetstone, who leads the charge on all things communications for the brand. She’s been working for the past 13 years on communications and policy issues for technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber. Her team strategizes every facet of how Netflix communicates, from internal corporate memos to policy issues fought in D.C.
Cultivating Netflix’s notoriously candid company culture is Chief Talent Officer Jessica Neal. She joined Netflix in 2006, but briefly left in 2013 to serve as Head of Human Resources at Coursera and later Chief People Officer at mobile gaming company Scopely. In 2017, she returned to her old employer and now oversees human resources for the 2,000-person product engineering team.
Greg Peters is tasked with overseeing the most valuable part of the company: the streaming service (Yes, you can still order DVDs.) As both Chief Product Officer and Chief Operating Officer, Peters has been with Netflix since 2008 and previously served as the International Development Officer. In that role, he forged partnerships with global internet service providers and multi-channel programmers to get Netflix on as many devices and platforms as possible. He now heads an innovative team of designers, engineers, and data analysts that are responsible for its top-secret recommendation algorithm that has viewers falling into a Netflix hole for hours.
Heading over to the other side of the lot, Sarandos has been paving the way for Netflix’s content since he introduced the world to “binge-watching,” with the 2013 Netflix Original “House of Cards.” He first joined the team in 2000 and was instrumental in the transition from a DVD rental company to an entertainment powerhouse that produces its own original content. Sarandos’ company-wide push into original content has been something Netflix has been nurturing ever since.
On the movie front, veteran film producer Scott Stuber leads as VP of Original Films. He’s known for his production efforts on blockbuster films such as Ted, Identify Thief, and Patriots Day. Before he joined Netflix, he served as co-President of Production at Universal Pictures and was in the running to lead Paramount Pictures. He joined Netflix in 2017 and has been leading the studio’s production of films to keep up with its wider-known original series.
Brandon Riegg oversees all unscripted programming at Netflix as VP of Nonfiction Series and Comedy Specials. His team launched “Queer Eye,” “Nailed It!,” and “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.” Riegg brings a background in reality TV from working as SVP and co-Head of NBC’s alternative programming department, responsible for primetime reality shows such as “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent” and “American Ninja Warrior.”
When it comes to scripted shows, though, VP of Original Content Jane Wiseman has been serving up critically acclaimed TV shows since 2014. She was the first network/studio development executive to join the company and came from NBC and its sister studio Universal TV, where she worked on beloved projects such as “Parks and Recreation” and “Community.”
Perhaps the one person that keeps Sarandos’ entire operation together is Ferial Govashiri, the glue of the content team. Govashiri’s previous work as the Personal Secretary to President Barack Obama correlates to her new role as Chief of Staff to Sarandos, where she continues to be a gatekeeper of access to powerful people, and in this role, it happens to be a co-CEO of a $25 billion entertainment company.