What is an Interim Leader?

What is an Interim Leader?

An interim leader is an accomplished operating executive, highly skilled from extensive training in corporate or entrepreneurial environments. Interim leaders focus on helping companies through periods of change, transformation, or transition. Assignments can run anywhere from a few months to two years, but the executive is usually focused on helping a company get to the next stage of growth or turnaround.  Examples of when an interim may be brought in include:

  • Turning around a company from decreasing or stagnant revenue
  • Putting processes, systems, controls, and operational improvements in place
  • Ramping up a company’s growth to prepare it for investment or sale
  • Increasing sales, brand positioning and awareness

Interim executives engage around the world with client companies ranging from startup to growth mode, private to public to nonprofit and NGO, multibillion dollar robust multinationals to struggling or failing businesses, products and divisions.

Interim leadership has become its own career calling – an executive must have a specific mindset to be able to go into organizations in flux and get up to speed quickly. Also, as technology has advanced, teams can function anytime, anywhere. Interims, who usually go to a challenge no matter what corner of the globe, can work with companies, employees, and managers anywhere and still thrive and lead.

Outsourcing started with routine tasks and services such as data entry and call centers, initially benefiting India above all other outsource destinations. What was first a novelty became over time and accepted practice. BPO is now estimated to grow to a $260 billion market by 2022.

As generations of business people became used to this new world of outsourcing, more sophisticated tasks, projects and roles could be conceived as capable of being compartmentalized – including the C-suite.

First tried in the Netherlands, and then spreading all over Europe, the concept of interim management is now worldwide.

The word interim is not a perfect description: while usually referring to the temporary nature of the work, in many cases an interim executive could be engaged by a client company for a span of years. In some cases the executive may earn significant non-cash compensation including equity when they are going into situations where they are tasked with producing serious growth for an organization.

Especially in the US, the word interim can be misused when applied to public companies swapping out a CEO or CFO on a moment’s notice with an interim CEO or interim CFO who is usually a current member of the board of directors. The instant nature of this use case is due to Sarbanes Oxley legislation mandating that a CEO and CFO sign off on financial statements. As a result many of these instantly named persons are merely placeholders in their roles and not true change agents, not empowered to accomplish anything other than serving as a nameplate.

The true interim leader is characterized by prior service in successful leadership roles, a bias in favor of making decisions and taking action, and a strong sense of integrity. Integrity is vital in the role, given that in many cases the interim must deliver news, findings or recommendations to the board of directors, investors or owners which may be contrary to what was previously believed.