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.
We were having a conversation with an executive recently who shared about their experience parachuting into a business that was struggling with operational inefficiencies.
This executive, like many interims, kicked off the assignment by meeting face-to-face with the management team and employees to learn how the business functions, what’s working, and what isn’t. Their findings would turn into an operational roadmap of the business, where they would set out and implement a go-forward plan. When meeting with one team member and learning about what they did, the executive pointed to a process they had in place asking “why do you do that?”
The answer: “Because we’ve always done it that way”
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.
The best, truest, and most bleak line I’ve heard from a mega-successful company founder was Dave Becker telling me: “we have all had the sleepless nights, when it’s 2am and you’re staring at the ceiling.” Dave is the founder of a number of companies including First Internet Bancorp (Nasdaq: INBK), the granddaddy of online banking.
From the outside, we see a successful entrepreneur with multiple home runs and think they must be sitting on easy street. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer is: everything. It always appears easy or obvious once a company has made it, but what we often don’t hear about are the trials and tribulations that happen at every stage of a company’s growth from young and unknown, to in between, and then big and ambitious. The sleepless nights. The questions of can you make payroll. The we-almost-went-bankrupt moments. This is real and it’s no surprise that many of our inquiries for help from owners show up in our inbox after the 9-5 employees have gone home.
Like a good spy movie, turnarounds used to center around a strong central figure making things happen. Turnaround stars and distress experts were born, like Stephen Cooper of Enron and Krispy Kreme fame.
In 1985 the Turnaround Management Association started as a conference of company turnaround specialists in Chapel Hill, ultimately creating a rigorous formal program and exam for Certified Turnaround Professionals.
“Back then the time frame for turnarounds was long,” Richard Lindenmuth, an executive who has completed 23 turnarounds over the years said. “There was bridge financing from banks that would facilitate a turnaround and bankruptcy was really used as a tool for restructuring a company.”
Times have changed. Many of the Fortune 500 companies from those days have merged or disappeared due to outdated technology, products, or services (think RCA, Blackberry, Zenith). At the same time, the way to turn around a struggling business has transformed, being driven by several factors:
My daughter eagerly accepted an internship at the morgue. Wait – how does she put it? The medical examiner’s office. Regardless, all I hear is morgue. Anyway, let’s move past the whole your-daughter-is-around-dead-people issue because here’s the interesting thing. They ask their interns to sign a statement agreeing to work pro re nata.
This was a new phrase for me: pro re nata. It is latin for “in the circumstances” or “as needed” or “as the situation arises.”
I believe the phrase is really a guiding light for the best interim execs around the world, because the best leaders operate as needs demand – pro re nata.
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,
We have spent years developing a methodology for matching companies and executives, but ultimately at the top of the list is chemistry between the executive, private equity fund, company owner, or management team. So once we suggest an executive or team to fit a company’s needs, the question usually arises: what questions should I be asking in an interview to see if it’s a good fit?
Here are a few recommendations so you will be armed with targeted questions for the interview process:
It seems like every company owner dreams of achieving major traction in the marketplace. That fast track growth, however, often comes at a cost. Things get taped together. There’s no process to speak of. Systems? Ha. Things go missing, including clients and team members. Lack of resources means that even the crown jewel, the company’s ability to out-innovate, may be put on hold just to keep up.
When a company grows faster than the capabilities of the leadership team, the end result is often a splat: the company hits the wall.
Smart fast-growing companies are combatting this with fractional or part-time executives.
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.