Tom Fumarelli, Fumarelli Associates, LLC: Leadership Development Consultant, Professional Certified Executive Coach and Business Advisor

#006: Coaching CEO & COO Partnership Teams

Join Dr. Krister Lowe and this week’s leading organizational team coach, Tom Fumarelli, on the The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  In the episode, Tom shares stories coaching teams and also discusses a special type of team coaching involving CEO & COO partnerships.  Tom is a Leadership Development Consultant, Professional Certified Executive Coach and Business Advisor who supports leaders, business owners and organizations to make sustainable change and achieve their personal best. His consulting, coaching and advisory work is based on a successful thirty-year career as a global CFO, COO and President.


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Learn more about Tom at: 




  1. Coach Training: The Hudson Institute of Coaching
  2. Bennet, N. & Miles, S. (2006) Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO. Stanford Business Press.
  3. Katzenbach, J.R. & Smith, D.K. (2006). The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High Performance Organization.


PART 1 – GETTING TO KNOW THE TEAM COACH: Tom Fumarelli, Fumarelli Associates, LLC.

  • Tom Fumarelli, Fumarelli Associates, LLC.
  • Leadership Development Consultant, Professional Certified Executive Coach, Business Advisor. Offices in San Francisco and New York.
  • Supports leaders, business owners and organizations to make sustainable change and achieve their personal best. His consulting, coaching and advisory work is based on a successful thirty-year career as a global CFO, COO and President.  During his career as an operating executive, Tom had full P&L and management responsibility. He was President of Holly Hunt Enterprises, COO of Yakima Products Inc. and Senior Vice President of CHANEL where he was responsible to coordinate finance and operations in more than 25 countries. Prior to this he learned his craft at Kidder Peabody, Chase Manhattan Bank, Exxon Corporation and Price Waterhouse – in various global roles.
  • Tom holds an MBA from The Wharton School, and has completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. He has a BS from Manhattan College and is a CPA.
  • Tom has coached executive MBA students at Wharton West in San Francisco. He has also delivered leadership programs in the Advanced Management Program at The Wharton School for The Authentic Leadership Institute.
  • He facilitates Spot Coaching workshops for corporate clients at The Hudson Institute of Coaching and does facilitation with intact teams in multi-national organizations. He has been a faculty coach for The Global Institute of Leadership Development (GILD). As give back, Tom provides career coaching at Year-Up, a national organization that provides employment opportunities to young urban adults. He also provides support to leaders of social enterprises such as Goodwill Industries and Boys Girls Club.Tom is a Certified Executive Coach through The Hudson Institute of Coaching, and is certified by the International Coach Federation (PCC level). He is qualified in a number of leadership assessment tools including Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Social Style, Hogan Assessment and several 360° instruments.
  • Accomplished pianist, proficient in French
  • Has a niche area in “Partnership Coaching”
  • Believes that every leader regardless of level has an obligation to be a coach
  • Based on his experience as an executive, feels that every team member has a voice that needs to be heard.  We need to honor those voices and leverage them rather than impose a particular approach
  • Transition into coaching:  for last 10 to 12 years as an executive he was working in the C Suite as CFO, COO and President; realized that he was drawn towards building and helping individuals achieve their personal best.  Feels that the role of an executive is to develop the next generation of leaders.  Always had an interest in mentoring and coaching.
  • Not only coach leaders but develop them to coach others in order to have a cascading effect
  • Had a coaching and mentoring style of leadership
  • One of his learning edges: leading from the front to the coaching model of leading from behind; as coaches we are not there to give advice and instructions but rather to challenge and help the individuals find the solutions from within.  That’s a big challenge for people who go from the front of the house to being coaches.
  • We have to unlearn the skills that have made us effective as leaders and learn a new set of skills that help us be effective as coaches
  • When coaching in the C Suite, many executives ask for your advice and to be practical from time to time I do have discussions to share experiences from my own experience.
  • Transformational change in leaders and teams however really needs to come from within.
  • The ones who have discovery or “ah hah” moments are the ones who get not only transactional change but transformational change
  • Hudson Institute: background in finance and accounting, very analytical person, did research on  number of coaching programs around the work, took classes at a number of them, took some at the Hudson School.  They had an academic rigorous approach to coaching which impressed Tom.  It was very hands on and interactive and the participants in the program were like-minded, often with significant business experience.
  • Does some work for Hudson Institute: “spot coaching” workshops for managers within organizations in order to teach them just-in-time coaching skills, very hands-on
  • Partnership Coaching Niche: 10 years ago, was appointed as COO of an outdoor sporting goods company.  Based on north coast of California.  CEO was also newly appointed.  The two had different kinds of experience.  CEO had more sales and marketing experience whereas Tom had more global operations experience.  Were like “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.”  We had respect for each other which was paramount.  Private Equity Firm teased us: Tom + Jim = CEO was the joke.  Had different approaches to problem-solving.  Company was deeply troubled. Tom recommended that they work together with an external coach to help them and in the eyes of the team that they both would be in lock-step on decision-making.  Had individual and joint partnership coaching sessions.  Ended up being highly successful.  They both got to express what they each needed from the other in order to be successful and to give feedback.
  • Was at a COO Forum and a person there was writing a book called “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO.”  Tom was chatting with him and the larger meeting’s participants about CEO and COO partnership coaching and a writer from the Wall Street Journal asked if she could write an article on Tom’s experience.  Both Tom and Jim were featured the article: “CEO and COO Try Marriage Counseling.” Link to article: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB115431119074221912 Impact on the business was very profound.
  • Does a fair amount of partnership coaching now in his practice with CEO and COOs, with co-owners of organizations, even husband and wife business owners
  • One learning is that when the going gets tough, it’s often easier to get people in alignment and for political agendas to go away and for people to work together to overcome obstacles.  This was his experience at the sporting goods company.


  • Hits – 2 Team Coaching Success Stories 
    • Example #1: A Large Team: $12 billion retailer, East Coast, West Coast and Southern centers of excellence. 1 billion transactions per year, very data driven, off-price retailer, thin margins.  Managing data critical to their success.
    • Company had a history of bad blood within their technology group.  Company had implemented a Point of Sale system 8 years before and it didn’t work well and had a serious impact on the company and stock price.
    • Tom was brought in after a number of “interventions” with the technology group.  They had tried a number of approaches to get the three centers of excellence and multiple silos within each to work together.
    • Realized in interviewing the leading executive and the team that the leader tended to revel in direct confrontation and in “stirring the pot.”
    • 100’s of people in the function.  Focused on the leader, immediate direct reports and one level below them.  About 15 people.  Good representation across the 3 centers of excellence and functional groupings.
    • Spent time doing 1-to-1 interviews to get to know each person and to honor their voice.  Very critical to honor and recognize each person’s voice.  In doing so got a great sense of what was working and was not working and where some opportunities might be.  Face-to-face when possible and by phone. Ensure confidentiality.
    • What became clear through interviews was the previous interventions failed, the consultant/facilitator tried to impose their way of seeing things on the team.
    • Wisdom of Teams – interesting and important work, in reality is pretty rare where a team puts the needs of the team ahead of their own individual needs especially when you have multiple locations and multiple functions.
    • The work of that had been done did not take into account the unique needs and perspectives of each location.  There were some different cultural norms in each regional area.
    • Rather than impose a specific style, asked the team to come up with their own rules of engagement.  They came up with “above the line and below the line behaviors.”
    • Crafting joint rules of engagement worked because they themselves came up with this set of behaviors and practices.  We printed them up and had them placed on a giant poster and had each individual sign the poster as helping author it and commit to it.  Each got a copy and put as a screensaver on their computers.
    • Biggest shift: two years later they continue to follow these rules of engagement; they held themselves accountable rather than their leader
    • Arc of Team Coaching: interviews –> face-to-face 2 day offsite team retreat –> individual coaching for #2 leader and after retreat 3 one-to-one coaching sessions with each participant.
    • The coaching included each individual create an individual development plan that incorporated the rules of engagement to integrate into their own areas of influence and teams
    • Didn’t involve the leader in the team session: was a bold move, but it helped the team take up their role more and have them manage their issues more themselves. Often times teams will defer to the leader and not fully share their perspectives.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • 1.  Pre-work: interviews to listen to and honor the individual needs and views of each member
      • 2.  Not imposing my view or other’s views on the group; having them come up with their own rules of engagement
      • 3.  Excluding the leader from the process in this case
  • Example #2 – Partnership Coaching: In Silicon Valley, online behavioral health sector, CEO was a a classic young 30 year old prodigy from the valley who had come up in one start-up from another but not a great manager of people or process.  The COO is a seasoned executive with more than 30 years of hard core operations experience.  The Venture Capital firm was concerned about the different operating styles of the two.  The two weren’t getting along very well and it was an important inflection point in the life of the team.
  • Tom was brought in and embraced the role of a partnership coach.  Worked with them individually as well as together.
  • Explored needs they had from each other.  Tom thinks it is important that when he is working with two individuals that they insist on avoiding “triangulation.”  Like parenting where one child goes to a parent for one thing and then goes to the other if can’t get what they want from the first.  Sets some ground rules that they can’t afford triangulation: can’t use the coach as a vehicle to influence the other side, they need to be able to communicate directly to the other.  People are a bit surprised at first at this but it is essential for building trust.
  • The two had been working together for 18 months, honeymoon period was over, and they were working well together.
  • Tom identified hot buttons each one had and helped them build trust. Some of the roles and duties that the CEO was doing were more suited for the COO.  Helped shift some of those to the COO which freed the CEO up to focus on more forward facing marketing kinds of things that he was good at and this helped the COO do what he was brought in to do.
  • Organization was recently acquired by another larger organization.  Good outcome in the end.
  • Length of engagement: typically starts with a 6 month commitment and then can extend to one year or longer.  In this case they went one year.  Met with each individual 2x per month and then one joint session 1 to 2x per month (about an hour each time).
  • As a coach our goal is not to become an “annuity” where we are there forever but long enough to transfer new skills and for change to occur.
  • Really views the work as the coachee’s responsibility.  If they are not there to do the work and if they are not committed or coachable, this usually surfaces early.
  • Got buy-in by laying out the rules and also helping raise awareness on the costs of not changing.  The VC was considering withdrawing funding if they couldn’t get act together.
  • Partnership Coaching is more of a niche area, can be very powerful, not just useful with CEOs and COOs, could be division or country managers as well.
  • Useful for conflict, communication, adopting a joint approach, developing mutual respect, etc…
  • Has 5 or 6 partnership coaching engagements at present with a number of organizations; developing a bit of reputation in this area; has passion for it
  • Miss – Team Coaching Challenge Story
    • A social enterprise. health systems strengthening in South Africa founded by some Harvard Medical grads.
    • Serving people throughout Africa around various health issues (e.g. HIV AIDS)
    • Has operations in Zurich and Capetown with founders residing in different places.
    • Realized they needed a business leader on the ground in Capetown.  Tom supported them with the help of a recruiter to find a COO to be based in Capetown. The goal was to help the founding partners to shift their roles from managing the business from a distance to becoming figureheads and empowering a leader to run the day-to-day business of the company.   That was all very successful.
    • Put a system in place where the two co-owners and the newly appointed President/CEO formed as a team.  Tom took a partnership coaching approach to all three for a number of sessions after the new leader was transitioned in.  After Tom stepped away the frequency of the meetings between the 3 starting reducing in number and then the new CEO went in a direction that the Founding Partners didn’t like. The Partners empowered the CEO but then didn’t support where he wanted to take the company.
    • The three didn’t stay in touch or in sufficient dialogue, caused a lot of friction.  18 months into it they let the CEO go.  Tom was brought back in to do some damage control and to get the partners back on track with managing the day-to-day business.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • 1. Should have strongly suggested that he stay around to really help the 3 get more legs before disengaging. Ended the engagement too quickly.
      • 2. Had a foreign organism (CEO) enter the body and it was like the body’s immune system mobilized to reject and not welcome the new organism in and integrate that organism.

Part Three – Parting Advice & Resources

  • Tom is currently excited after about 5 years now working as coach to use his 30 years of experience as an executive to help individuals, leaders, partners and/or teams.
  • Coaching is not a substitute for performance management.  People need to have honest conversations and hold themselves accountable.  No coaching is a substitute for that. Coach can’t be there to manage day-to-day performance.
  • Tom recommends not taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Thinks it is important to have some structure around an engagement: collecting data, doing interviews, understand the context of the organization, understand what behaviors and why they need to change.
  • Recommends having a coaching development plan: documents a few strengths and few areas for improvement.  This helps avoid coaching just being about a conversation.  For highly effective coaching engagements, organizations want ROI on their coaching investments.  By having a documented plan it helps act as a guardrail to ensure that we are delivering some kind of return.  Capture the progress and obstacles and actions that are being attempted to overcome them.

How to Contact Tom Fumarelli

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