Have Executive Experience – Will Travel: The Interim Executive Phenomenon

CPC Employment Consulting

By Karen Siwak.

Interim management – bringing in heavyweight executives to manage an organization during a period of crisis or transition – is a staffing strategy that began in the Netherlands in the early 80s in response to stringent labour legislation that made it costly to hire and terminate permanent employees. The concept has since been adopted in the UK, Germany, Belgium, and Australia as a strategy for bridging short-term management needs, and is becoming increasingly popular in North America.

I had the chance to talk with Carmen Jeffrey, a Partner with Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions, about how Interim Executive solutions are evolving in North America. Carmen is responsible for Talent Acquisition in Knightsbridge’s Interim Management Division.

What Drew You to Specialize In this Field?

I’ve been in recruiting for 15 years, and have personally freelanced for almost 70% of the time, so I’ve always been a big believer in corporate freelance-for-hire. Since my early days in recruiting, I’ve seen an impressive increase in the quality of talent that is available for contract positions, and “contractor” no longer has the stigma that it once had, either for companies or for candidates. Interim management is an extension of that model. With the average tenure of permanent executive placements now being less than five years, it’s a solution that’s right for the times, and it is a substantial growth area for recruiters.

Why the Growth in Interim Executive Solutions?

Interim management really gained traction in the UK and Europe in 2001 following the dot.com bust, when companies found it too risky to hire people full-time. North American employers started taking notice, especially when the recession hit in 2008. It took time for the business model to evolve, for Interim Management to gain credibility as a viable recruitment option at the senior levels. Demand is growing now as employers become aware of the model, and as more and more high calibre executives begin to promote themselves in the interim management market.

What is the Typical Profile of an Interim Executive?

In my experience, great interim executives are full of a little more “spit and vinegar” than average. They are adaptable and agile, and have built a management tool kit over a varied career. Typically, they will have worked for five or six organizations over 20 or more years, and have grown professionally in that time. They have seen a lot of different business landscapes and have successfully addressed complexities and challenges such as merges & acquisitions and boom & bust cycles.

Ageism isn’t a factor in the interim market because companies are looking for experience. I would say the average age of interims is 50 to 55 years. They are senior VPs, Directors, CEOs who are looking to reinvent themselves and have a lot to offer. They can hit the ground running and be effective within the first week. A lot of project managers and program managers do well as Interims – they know how to make things happen.

Is There a Typical Profile for the Employers?

Companies of all sizes, in all industries, are using interim executives, sometimes as a way of avoiding the cost of the golden handshake when they know they only need somebody for a fixed term. There is always a sense of urgency, maybe a project deadline, or an audit. It could be the sudden departure of the incumbent due to illness. Usually, in my experience, they also have a “skeleton” in the closet, some kind of internal pressure that means filling the positioning internally is not an option.

How is this Different from Using Consultants or Contractors?

When a company hires on contract, the contractor is given less access to certain repositories of information. Contractors can’t attend certain meetings for confidentiality reasons. Consultants are brought in to provide advice, but don’t have decision-making authority. Senior-level Interims, on the other hand, become members of the executive decision-making team. It’s always clear that the Interim Executive has been hired with a mandate to drive change. The average tenure is about 18 months. They don’t have to partake in the politics, and are expected to be objective. They have permission, and the luxury, to be blunt – to be “outside” insiders – so it is often easier for them to execute the change agenda.

Are There Risks/Downsides?

I haven’t personally seen any failed Interim assignments, but I’ve heard stories of interim hires that didn’t work out. Usually its because the expectations weren’t well defined by the company. Perhaps the company’s vision was “go go”, but they couldn’t accommodate the necessary horsepower, or didn’t have the infrastructure in place to support the vision.

What Does the Business Relationship Look Like?

The Interim Executive workforce is more sophisticated today than it was in the past. Typically they are incorporated individuals for hire, and we strongly recommend this. At Knightsbridge we can put them on our payroll if they aren’t incorporated, but the tax savings are almost 20% if they incorporate.

For the employer, the Interim is a line item on a budget sheet rather than a headcount. Compensation is calculated based on a per diem or annual compensation package that includes the monetary value of salaries, benefits, bonus and vacation time if they were hired full-time. At Knightsbridge we take a hands-on role in helping with these negotiations.

How Does Interim Executive Recruitment Work?

At Knightsbridge we work on a contingency model and charge a research fee for sourcing the candidate. However it’s not often that we are competing with another recruitment firm to find an interim candidate. We are working with really short time frames – only two to five days to get the shortlist together, with the expectation that the Interim Executive will begin working within ten days. We have a database of over 6000 Interims, a pipeline that we’ve developed over 7 years and continue to feed through our work Executive Transition, Career Transition, Leadership Development and Talent Acquisition. We also go out to professional associations and headhunt net new talent.

If Somebody Wants to Get Into the Interim Exec Business, How Should They Start?

If somebody is interested in interim management as a career path, I strongly recommend that they research the landscape and become really savvy about how other Interims are marketing themselves. Hang out the shingle and advertise yourself as an Interim Executive for Hire. Have a mission statement that identifies the specific things you can do for a company, the kinds of situations you can handle.

Be proactive in getting incorporated. Two years ago Revenue Canada started audited people who were incorporated to make sure that they stated their books accurately, so it is advisable to work with an accountant to set it up.

Write your resume with Interim Executive opportunities as a target. This is no time to try and hide your age, embrace it. The value that you bring to the table is the depth and diversity of experience you have to offer. Showcase your successes with situational management, where you’ve had to roll things out under duress. Highlight executional accomplishments as opposed to day to day management. As you build a portfolio of interim engagements you can add this experience to your marketing material.

There are a growing number of executive search firms that have an Interim Management group, including Knightsbridge, the Osborne Group, and Odgers Berndstson in Canada; and FTI Consulting, Boyden Interim Management, and Transition Management Consulting, Inc. in the US.

But Interim Executives should be ready to hunt down their own work. At least one day in five should be spent doing calls. Successful Interims are always networking and promoting themselves, and this has a benefit not only for their own career but for the industry as a whole. As more and more interims advertise themselves, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the interim option, and this is driving growth in demand overall.

Karen Siwak is a Certified Resume Strategist, Certified Job Search Strategist, and Certified Career Management Coach. As the Executive Director of Resume Confidential and a member of the Challenge Factory coaching team, she helps executives, senior managers and credentialed professionals get marketing savvy about their careers.

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