Interim executives are a new breed

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Interim executives are function managers in finance, IT and HR, as well as top flight turnaround specialists and trouble shooters with a proven track record of handling change.

At one time when boards, banks or venture capital funds were up against pressure to implement change, improve performance, integrate an acquisition or prepare a subsidiary for sale, the solution used to be to call in consultants. Today, when situations need fast action, there is an alternative - a hands-on interim executive ready to analyse a situation and stay to implement change.

In financial markets, recent demand for specialist interim management support has been strongest for e-commerce expertise, not least in launching online initiatives.

Torrie Smith, director of interim management at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, has placed a number of interim executives with City of London banks, as project managers, operations and back office change managers, as well as a number of acting company secretary and finance director and controller appointments for City institutions. He is currently placing a chief executive for a City-based e-commerce start-up.

One growing use of interim management is by the private equity industry. When the former HM Stationery Office was privatised and Electra Partners and Mercury Asset Management backed a management buy-in, they brought in David Davies, a 55-year-old chartered accountant, to lead a team of six accountants to manage a big change programme.

Davies, who trained with the then Price Waterhouse and moved over to what was then Andersen Consulting, decided to become an interim executive after 16 years as finance director with hi-tech companies.

The Stationery Office assignment, arranged through BIE, a leading provider of board-level interim executives, lasted nine months. Davies says: 'They wanted me to stay, but I prefer the challenge of working on a series of stimulating, often tough assignments.'

In another private equity situation - investment by 3i in a privately owned telecom company - Davies was brought in as acting finance director pending the successful search for a permanent appointment.

What attracted him to interim management? 'As a company doctor and later as a finance director, many of the jobs I've tackled involved problems to be cleared up. Interim management is a niche market, not to be confused with executive temping or contracting.

'It will grow because, after downsizing, many companies are stretched and need experienced executives for short-term assignments to cope with peaks and troughs, to solve problems and implement solutions. You've got to have a lot of hands-on experience, be able to stand back and take a strategic view and be prepared to work 12 hours a day. It's not for people planning early retirement.'

Chris Power, who has worked on several assignments through Russam GMS, a leading intermediary provider, decided to move into interim management and has worked with financial and high-growth technology service businesses in Europe, the US, Asia and Pacific Rim. His eight assignments since 1994 varied from four to 23 weeks and included acting as chief executive or head of e-commerce.

One of his assignments involved developing and managing implementation of back-office business processes to accommodate e-commerce requirements and achieve regulated status from the PIA/FSA to launch the sale of financial products online for a top bank's subsidiary.

The concept of interim management is still relatively new, but already has many advocates, including Sir John Harvey-Jones, the Institute of Directors and the Institute of Management. Companies that have used interim managers tend to use them again and again, not only to handle change but to fill short-term gaps.

Ian Daniell, chairman of the Interim Management Association, says: 'Demand for flexible resources is growing across all business sectors in the UK.'

The association's members include some of the big headhunters and most of the big five accountancy firms which have set up interim management offshoots. Leading intermediaries or providers of interim managers apply selection and screening methods to ensure the right executives can be in place within a matter of days.

BIE's Martin Wood says : 'There is a similarity between headhunting and head-renting. Both are about finding outstanding people to fill particular posts. Both require astute casting, personality, chemistry and cultural fit.

'The essential difference is that the head-renter may have to find a chief executive in a matter of days from a pre-selected 'blood bank' of quality executives, whereas the headhunter can take rather longer to search for the right permanent placement.'

Research by Russam GMS, with a database of more than 5,000 interim managers, including a sizeable grouping of e-business specialists formed in response to demand, suggests that the market is worth about 500m (€815m) and is growing at 10% per year.

About a third of all assignments go through intermediaries the remainder are sourced by interim managers direct. Average daily fees are 500 to 600, with higher rates for IT, general manager, HR and finance specialists.

Top-flight appointments can go up to 1,500 per day - which is reckoned to be below the levels charged by management consultants.