PitchBook’s recent report on 3Q activity in the PE world provided a good news/bad news kind of experience.

First the good: exits and fundraising are two relatively bright spots for PE investors. While “capital exited slipped following a record-breaking 2Q…the 143 deals executed in 3Q 2012 (were) a slight improvement in line with the recent trend, according to the report.

Meantime, PE firms closed 28 funds with a total of $35 billion, the report stated. That figure was down slightly from the previous quarter, but “3Q still registered the third best fundraising total in the last three years,” according to PitchBook.

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It’s not easy being a turnaround artist these days. Just ask Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney is taking serious heat for his work at Bain Capital, including recently a derisive Rolling Stone article, “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.” The piece outlines Bain’s “epic wealth grab” which it argues both destroyed jobs and entire companies.

Don’t flee, this isn’t a political piece. But a word here, please.

Whatever the opinions about Mitt Romney and his private-equity business history, let’s focus for a moment on the real-live turnarounds of distressed companies, the kind of engagements that attract many interim executives. Turnaround, that is, by definition.

Lonnie Sciambi, for example, is one turnaround artist who would appreciate that shift. Sciambi said he was asked at a party what he did for a living. He said he did turnarounds. “The guy said, ‘So you slash and burn?’” Well, not exactly.

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Interim executives, like the temporary workforce, take assignments for limited terms and can help decrease a company’s expenses. But that’s pretty much where the comparison ends.

The specialty isn’t about filling slots temporarily — although interims can and do step in when a member of the executive suite steps down unexpectedly — but about bringing in highly experienced experts who come equipped to solve whatever challenging situation a company is experiencing.

In fact, think of it as exactly the opposite of seat-filling. It’s all about bringing dramatic results by expert hands under a tight deadline. Often, the situation is critical, like in the following example.

Motorola Mobility, the cellphone maker purchased by Google last May, recently announced a turnaround effort is underway. Interestingly, inside the company’s innovation wing, the demanding principles that guide the interim executive world are being put to use.

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The U.K. government currently is collecting feedback on a proposed initiative, The Taxation of Controlling Persons, that interim executives say would harm their businesses.

In the name of seeking a simpler and more transparent tax system, the draft legislation seeks to require that individuals who direct the activities of an organisation at the senior level must be taxed as employees.

“This is being done with the best of intentions—that of dealing with the fat cats and tax cheats exposed in the media in recent months, but the rudimentary regulations and tax treatments are catching and threatening the livelihood of professional interim managers and executives….” The UK-based Institute of interim Management stated in its 2012 market survey, released this September.

The threat to interim executives is that the new tax doesn’t take into account their role as in-and-out agents of change.

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Venture capital firms invested $7.0 billion in 898 deals in the second quarter of 2012, rising above first-quarter levels of $6.0 billion and 809 deals. That’s according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association based on data from Thomson Reuters.

Investments still lag last year’s overall pace. “If funding levels in the second half of the year remain consistent with the first half of the year, VC investing in 2012 will fall short of the nearly $30 billion invested in 2011 but will exceed the $23 billion invested in 2010,” according to Tracy T. Lefteroff, global managing partner of venture capital at PwC US.

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Interim executives are hired for the experience and judgment they bring to the table. In the topsy-turvy world of a turnaround or start-up, unique and perplexing scenarios inevitably arise. And interims, by definition, will likely face a wider variety of challenges over the course of time than their stay-put senior executive counterparts.

But, as the saying goes, it can be lonely at the top whether you’re a solo practitioner or even in a partnership.

Ernie Beal knows the pressure of being an interim CEO. With many states having vended out inmate health services to private enterprises, Ernie is running a new project for Corizon Health, a firm that operates clinics and hospital beds for inmates. One of Beal’s big challenges with this project is the need for tight security.

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According to ManpowerGroup’s 2011 labor-shortage study, 52% of U.S employers surveyed said that a shortage of talent was keeping them from hiring more robustly.

“We know employers are struggling to fill open positions that require specialized and technical skills,” according to the staffing group’s survey. Management/executive positions made it into the study’s top-ten list of the hardest jobs for U.S. employers to fill.

Maybe those companies aren’t looking in the right places.

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In business, everybody wants to be the cheetah: nimble, quick, flexible, and able to respond rapidly to twists and turns in the business cycle.

But even cheetahs band together when necessary, finding value in shared resources. The following story illustrates how well that can work.

Nick Clementi’s interim firm was created as a partnership of six executives who’d just gone through transactions as part of PE-owned ventures. They’d created liquidity events, he said, and found themselves sitting with cash but finished with their previous engagements.

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What is an interim? Though the specialty of highly talented interim executives is quickly growing, many companies remain unaware of this critical resource. And despite Europe’s head-start in using interim executive labor, lack of clarity exists on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the rest of the globe.

Interim executives and consultants share traits. But consulting tends to be built around producing analysis and delivering a thought product. The definition of interim is different. An interim remains to get the grease on his or her hands as a company implements change. While analysis is a fundamental tool in the executive interim’s toolbox, the ability to implement and execute defines the interim. They can be essential during critical periods of a company’s life, including the stages of start-up, turnaround, or internal change.

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While Europe’s economic woes have factored into the fee structures and engagement levels of interim executives in recent years, Europe-based interims are concerned about another force putting pressuring on fees: headhunting firms.

Interims from Europe say the market is awash in placement firms looking to match European interim executives with the companies that need them. Of course, there are reputable placement firms that specialize in placing interim executives, but those firms aren’t the problem.

Fakers and Posers Flood the European Interim Market, Fee Pressure Up

European interims are concerned that many of today’s middlemen promise interim executive placement services, but are muddying the definition of interim and harming a specialty that lives by its promise of top-flight decision-making backed by experienced strategy execution under a fixed timeframe.

For the high rungs of interim executives, that watering down is resulting in lower fee structures.

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