Faced with a crisis? Or an opportunity too good to be missed, but without the management experience to take advantage? Don't panic, you can call an interim executive. The term "interim executive", also called "interim manager", was hardly - if ever - heard in the UK before the recession of the early Nineties. Then many larger SMEs made too many people redundant, and too quickly, and had to call for experienced executives to help them out on a short- or medium-term basis to see them through a period of profound challenge and change.
Subsequently, the interim executive sector hit boom times in Britain with the internet explosion of the late Nineties. Lots of young dot.com entrepreneurs had what seemed to be brilliant ideas (even if many of them eventually bombed) and got wads of cash from venture capitalists, but simply did not have sufficient executive experience to implement them. Again, in many instances it was interim executives who moved in to help them out.
Obviously, an interim executive is not a long-term fix. They meet a short- term need, which may be a fast-moving acquisition or merger. It may be to cover an unexpected departure of a key person. A company may need additional experience to cope with an unplanned expansion, or relocation. It could also be a start-up or a closure. Interim managers may be brought in for a specific function, which may be to negotiate a franchise deal or to oversee a major change programme or capital scheme.
"Some of the key uses are where organisations are going through major change or transition and need ready expertise to help with restructuring," explains Julia Candlish, director of BIE Interim Executive Management. She explains that interim executives will adopt a strategic approach in a senior management role, operating with executive authority.
James Wheeler is a partner at Ashton Penney, another agency providing interim managers. He says that clients tend to be SMEs or mid-capitalised companies, businesses with annual turnover of pounds 10m-pounds 100m. Very small businesses may not recognise the need for interim executives, or else do not have the cash to pay for them. Larger corporations tend to have the internal capacity and flexibility to find the urgent short-term executive in-house. "Smaller companies up against it almost certainly won't have the depth of expertise to manage the situation," he adds.
Wheeler argues that normally the interim executive needs specific trade skills - generalist managers make bad interim managers, he suggests. Candlish disagrees. "It's not necessarily important to have experience of that sector," she says. "In many roles like finance, they can act across sectors. …