“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.
The world of mergers and acquisitions can be complex for owners focused on building their companies.
We’re often asked by owners about their options to exit and sell the company. Often, work needs to be done to prepare – in advance of any sale process – to ensure maximum value is realized. Owners may opt to bring in an outside perspective like an interim executive to provide an operational roadmap to improve operations and package the company for eventual sale. This process, however, typically begins with two types of targets in mind:
Strategic buyers (Strategics) are companies who are already operating in the field/industry where acquiring your business will be complementary to their business, expand their customer base, or give them a competitive advantage.
Financial buyers include private equity funds, family offices, and individual investors who provide their own equity funding and borrowing to acquire businesses as a path to future gains.
Let’s dive in to the difference between strategic buyers and financial buyers:
Corporations know that innovation is key to their continued growth, but what happens when serious product or service reengineering is not within the organization’s DNA? What if the company is just too successful or set in their traditional world?
That is exactly what happened when a multi-billion dollar construction company came to us with a software division they had launched internally. While the company was superb at architecting, planning, engineering and building major construction projects, developing software was a new ball game.
The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.
Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.
Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!
I was having a conversation with company founders in a healthcare startup who made the comment: “we’re new to being entrepreneurs.”
That was their opening for free advice. It’s hard building and scaling a business when most startups fail or have a tough time and that’s not celebrated enough. Instead we just marvel at the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and aspire to be like Uber, Facebook, Google.
The truth is that most every new businesses – it’s a slog. A grind. A tough battle at some point in their existence, if not in fact for many years. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft had a phrase for this: the long middle. He said its fairly easy to be creative, think up a brilliant new product, and decide to charge forward. Then comes the middle: the long slog.
How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.
These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.
Non-Profit, Vision Share, is the consortium of eye banks that banded together in 1998 to get corneas ready for transplant, into the hands of surgeons around the globe. With 18 eye banks, the consortium provides a space to share best practices, help advance innovation and technology, and pool resources to reach surgeons fast.
After having a full-time CEO on board for two years, the board determined they were not getting the results they were looking for.
Software runs the world but hardware and physical products are still part and parcel of our everyday experience. Bill Fienup and his co-founders set out an ambitious goal to help new manufacturers launch and grow. He started small with Catalyze Chicago, a nascent manufacturing innovation hub. Risking their own capital they rented 2,000 square feet, which quickly expanded to 8,000 square feet in five months, serving member companies who had raised $28 million from investors, generating $56 million in revenue.
But that wasn’t enough, and Bill’s plans became what is now mHub, an innovation center focused on physical product development and manufacturing.
We got the chance to do a Q&A with Bill, where we dove into his growing innovation hub and the future of manufacturing:
Companies that have sought out true interims will tell you that during initial conversations, the executive interviewed the company as much as the company interviewed the executive. Having jumped into everything from manufacturing to healthcare, to AI, interims are choosy about the assignments they take on. They are not shy about a challenge, but want to have major impact. The best interim execs have a finely honed internal screening check-list to decide what’s best to parachute into.
Cleve Adams is no stranger to high growth situations, having built a SaaS cyber security software company from pre-revenue to a $1B IPO in three years. As an interim exec and four-time VC-backed CEO, Cleve says there are four vital components to evaluating a company.
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.