It’s not uncommon for private equity portfolio companies to double or even triple growth thanks to merger or acquisition. Albeit positive, rapid growth brings new operational challenges that can stop the upward momentum in its tracks. Interim executives bring the expertise needed to enable growth on a massive scale.
“Sometimes a business will start with $40 million in sales, and through acquisition will be two or three times that size. Often that creates an environment where you need to add to the management team, whether that be the CFO or the CEO,” said Forest Wester, a Partner at Trivest Partners that leverages interim executives to enable growth.
Private equity funds use interim executives in a variety of scenarios. However, these scenarios are typically problems that need to be solved such as the abrupt departure of a CEO.
More than ever, a consistent brand that customers trust is critical to business growth. Whether product or service-based, B2B or B2C, local or global-focused, a strong brand with a great reputation is what enables a company to expand successfully.
Behind every powerful brand, stands an innovative Chief Marketing Officer. An experienced CMO can strategically plan and scale marketing plans during periods of business growth.
But not all companies can afford to hire a full-time CMO on a permanent basis. Many startups and midmarket companies reach a tipping point where they either expand or stagnate. All too often, the rate of business expansion they want to achieve outpaces their available operational resources and time.
Interim management has arrived, and it only took 50 years, from a specialty that started in the Netherlands and moved slowly around the world. And its first and best incarnation is the interim CFO.
A good Chief Financial Officer will help a business catapult to the next stage of growth. Whether public, private or private equity backed, a CFO leads and implements strategy that ultimately creates value for shareholders, increasing EBITDA and cash flow. The means to get there may look different for each organization, but companies choose to bring in an Interim CFO because they are looking for transformation:
Operational Improvement and Strategic Planning
An Interim CFO will streamline accounting and financial reporting, helping owners, board members, investors and the management team get a clear look into the state of the business.
Let’s face it: an Interim Chief Information Officer has to be of instant value to an organization. A top interim CIO can take on any technically-challenging project that would be assigned to the permanent CIO, though they usually have a focus on bringing change and transformation to an organization.
While some Interim CIOs may be brought in to perform initial work such as a technology audit — a fast way to assess if an organization is optimally set up from an infrastructure perspective — in many other cases the need for an Interim CIO is driven by a specific project or initiative:
Business and ERP System Implementation >
When a company wants to automate process or functions from finance to accounting to supply chain and customer relationships,
All companies use information technology to some degree.
Great companies have CIO leadership on the management team to purposefully leverage information technologies in creative and sometimes disruptive ways – to grow business, produce faster than competition, enrich customer experiences, and make business transformation happen.
Many full-time CIOs dedicate their careers to one specific industry, and so their experience is vertically deep. Interim CIOs on the other hand, provide a unique perspective blending innovation and technology transformation across a variety of organizations and industries. They specialize in change, bringing an attractive depth-of-experience from a career of change management, while leveraging ever-evolving technologies. It is this change-leadership experience that is highly valuable to a proactive board or management team facing the challenge of business transformation, especially where information technologies are an enabling and differentiating factor.
“A man’s got to know his limitations.” Clint Eastwood’s immortal line as San Francisco detective Harry Callahan in the movie Dirty Harry stands true today when board of directors and management teams think about how to evaluate executive candidates. If you have been in management, ownership or board leadership long enough, sooner or later you’ve learned that no one has a perfect track record when it’s come to hiring.
So how do you increase your chances of success?
You’ve already taken the first step – by thinking of interim executives in order to mitigate your risk. You are making sure you have a clear roadmap and understanding of the leadership skillsets needed to get you where you want to go before committing to anything permanent too soon. That’s good.
Whether interim or permanent, there are questions to ask and ways to evaluate your organization’s fit with an executive leader.
Scanning someone’s career history, what does it mean when you see the word acting in a title?
The language around interim executives, executives who specialize in growing, transforming and turning around companies can be tricky as executives in the specialty don’t always identify themselves with the same language. But in some cases acting can be another indicator that you have found an interim.
Consider your audience: is the executive being presented to the board of directors, the company at large, or to the general public?
When it comes to public companies, the language is precise and if an executive has temporarily stepped in while a permanent search takes place, they will be described as interim or acting. Things get confusing because public companies often appoint board members to this interim or acting role who serve as more of a baby sitter or placeholder. Beware that this is not the same thing as a career interim who can be identified by their career history taking on high impact engagement after engagement, helping cause companies to grow or turnaround.
The far larger use of interim executives is in private companies worldwide, whether for profit or nonprofit.
The project-based executive, also known as an interim executive has been around for 30+ years, having originated in the Netherlands, later expanding to the UK, the rest of Europe and finally reaching America around 2000.
The early model for interim engagements was invariably focused on turnaround and distress situations: an organization in pain would eventually decide they couldn’t solve the problem on their own, and would seek an outside resource, often through executive search firms, where the executive was never a permanent employee.
Interims have played a part since the early days of private equity funds, where fund managers would use executive search services as part and parcel of their post-acquisition ownership strategy. A fund would see big potential in a struggling company, and would realize big returns by bringing in an outside executive to turn the company around. Thus the early version of interim – interim 1.0 – was all about fixing what was broken.
The next phase in interim executive deployment launched in the US, arguably emerging out of the tech community.
Many owners and boards are new to the game of hiring an executive specializing in interim management.
As the gig economy has gained momentum, more companies are drawing on executive level resources for specific growth initiatives or to help troubleshoot inefficiencies or problems. Interims come in on a project basis as contractors, therefore not adding to permanent overhead.
Because the majority of companies have never written a contract for an interim, they draw on what they know – the playbook for searching and hiring a full-time exec.
Yet, interim management and permanent employment are two different worlds.
First-year Change Agent members have access to the Interim Institute’s 4 hour audio program on the Fundamentals of Interim Management, and a one-hour strategy session to help jumpstart their interim career.
*$200 additional charge for Accelerator Program only applies for first-year members. After the first year, membership renews at $485/year.
Interim Nonprofit Executive
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