I have lost count of the number of company owners I’ve met who need help but are scared to death about hiring a consultant. Owners say it all boils down to shoveling out a lot of cash to an outsider without being sure that it will pay off.
“I think a lot of times when the consultants come in, their big advantage is that they come across very self-confident and sound great,” a former Fortune 50 CEO recently told me in an interview. “But I’m always very worried about what I refer to as the articulate incompetent.”
He went on, “There’s a lot of incredibly articulate people walking around that are incompetent and never accomplished anything. My issue with consultants is that many have never managed, led or operated anything other than PowerPoint slides.”
Joel Rosenbacher, CEO of Assemblers, a packaging company in Illinois with 600 employees, shares the hesitancy felt among owners and many company leaders: “Last time I brought in a consultant they didn’t understand my business and in the end it was a big waste of time. I need someone who will actually get something done and not just talk a good talk.”
While the Fortune 100 look to big consulting firms to provide brilliant research, analysis and strategy, what’s the SMB owner with limited resources and big needs to do? Even when the owner can afford good advice from outsiders, they are often left scratching their heads wondering ‘who’s going to do the work?’
Enter the interim executive, a new breed of insourced leadership. “The key differentiating factor between a consultant and interim executive is decision making,” John Collard, turnaround pro and chairman of the Association of Interim Executives said.
According to Collard, an interim actually executes on plans. “Interims are measured on results, and if they aren’t delivering, the owner can show them the door. If you aren’t good at what you do you don’t survive as an interim.”
Robert Martin, an experienced finance and marketing interim executive sees the apolitical nature of interim assignments as a critical benefit to a corporate environment that often goes off course when politics come into play. “I’m not trying to impress anybody. My job is to get things done.”
Martin was recently brought into a software firm by the company’s CMO, Liz Murphy, who knew she needed to make immediate changes as soon as she came on board. She decided to take the route of hiring an interim, saying “If I was going to do what needed to be done, I needed someone who operated independently and who I could completely trust.”
“What is so delightful about an interim is that person brings so much experience and perspective that issues get identified and unstuck,” Murphy said, adding that Martin created systems that gave the company an accurate view of sales projections from a given promotional campaign.
Private equity funds are another owner segment that has historically used interims to help get big returns on investment. When Huron Capital Partners, a Detroit-based private equity fund that has raised over $1.1 billion, invests in or purchases a company it often needs an operational person to help implement some of the opportunity identified during due diligence.
“A lot of companies we invest in are entrepreneur-backed businesses that maybe don’t have the corporate infrastructure that is needed to get to the next level in their evolution,” Sean Roberts, Vice President at Huron Capital Partners said.
To help fill those gaps, Roberts says they use everything from a temporary CFO to get the business financial reporting up to standard to an operational exec to generate cost savings on the plant floor. Even one-off projects such as system implementation or process improvement can call for temporary, but expert help.