Many companies are starved for effective leadership, and as a result the demand for great interim executives who will come in and do the work is increasing. Consider this passage from the book Traction:

The inability to make a business vision a reality is epidemic. Consider it a new take on an old quote: Vision without traction is merely hallucination. All over the world, business consultants frequently conduct multiple-day strategic planning sessions and charge tens of thousands of dollars for teaching what is theoretically great material. The downside is that after making you feel warm and fuzzy about your direction, these same consultants rarely teach you how to bring your vision down to the ground and make it work in the real world.

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We’ve been thinking recently about GT Dave, an entrepreneur who dropped out of high school and founded GT’s Kombucha at age 17. His parents swore by the health benefits of Kombucha tea and while GT’s homemade recipe was the foundation for a new company, what he actually did was create an entirely new category. GT Kombucha holds an estimated 60% of a $600M market, and it’s still growing strong.

Creating a new category requires two things above all else: an unwavering sense of mission, and devotion to quality. The challenge is that paving a new path does not always translate to instant success and understanding. At the Association of Interim Executives we believe in the power of interim executive management and have taken on a mission to be the voice of the specialty and to help companies around the globe succeed because of access to world class executive talent.

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When do you bring an interim executive in to a company? In this video two veterans, John Collard, Chairman of Strategic Management Partners and Robert Jordan, CEO of the Association of Interim Executives, give a quick description. Do interims always replace existing management? Decidedly — no. Many times interims complement the existing team

Elusive growth, global market fluctuations, rapidly changing technology, and fragmented buyer behaviors are just some of the dynamics driving the need to have the right marketing leader in place. The question for many organizations often becomes when should such a leader be brought into the organization? Finding the right CMO takes significant recruiting resources and often more time than anticipated. Not all organizations are ready to make this commitment given their stage of development.

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As the Red Queen told Alice, “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” This is often true with most companies, they must grow or the competition will leave them behind. In order to grow faster they must also make changes in their processes. The key to effectively managing change is to create a culture that is willing to embrace change as the new norm. To be effective, you must ensure the whole organization understands that the status quo will no longer be acceptable. The first step in creating a change-management culture is to get everyone’s head wrapped around some very basic definitions:

Organization and coordination of the activities of an enterprise in accordance with certain policies in order to achieve clearly defined objectives

To cause to be different

Change Management
A structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state

Change Agent
A person effective at change management

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The American Cheese Society, a trade group, recently jumped on the certification bandwagon. They’re giving cheesemakers the chance to get certified. The organization is offering a professional exam this year for about 150 artisan and specialty cheesemakers .

Of course, Europe is the leader in the perfecting of the cheese-making process and the evaluation of it. But no one’s exactly sure—as far as we know–who invented certification as a practice or where in the world it first emerged.

What we do know that certification in a given profession can make a significant difference. Who wants an accountant when you can have a Certified Public Accountant or Chartered Accountant?

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By: Neil Grant

“The right people, at the right time, and in the right place” makes a big difference.

Most of us are aware of the massive losses incurred by BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – running into the billions. And we can probably refer to fabulous entrepreneurs who have generated billions in corporate value. But on a more day-today basis, individual mangers can motivate great levels of performance from employees, and those employees can choose to build value through their commitment to high productivity. The opposite is of course also true, where organizations lack high calibre leadership, don’t invest in the development of their management, and underestimate employee engagement.

Getting the “people” bit of any organization right is essential for immediate and long term gain.

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What are your strengths in taking on interim assignments?

I focus on turnarounds of small to mid-sized companies, and on helping healthy companies grow and prosper. One of my strengths is to quickly grasp the major issues a company faces at a high level. After identifying the major issues, I delve into the nitty-gritty and develop a plan with the senior management team to address each challenge. I then lead the execution of the plan, and once the company is on the right track, the management team can successfully run it on their own.

Even if sometimes it ends up being a wrong decision, it’s better to make a decision, than not make one at all.

Give me an example of when you took a company to the next level.

I was brought in as CFO of a telecom company that was losing $4.5 million. I was able to identify the cause of the loss, which was actually one major product, and then work out a plan with their recently hired CEO to exit from selling that product while still servicing current clientele. We also focused on research and development to create and commercialize new products. Within a year the company became cash-flow positive, and continued to be profitable and generate cash going forward.

A good outcome.

Another example – I was referred by an asset based lender to one of their clients, an established distribution company that was losing money. The owners, who were in their late sixties, were looking for an exit, and the lender wanted to get paid in full. I first brought their costs down and then, within six months, I identified an acquirer who purchased the company, and the bank was paid in full. The new owners then hired me for six months to help them with financial and operational challenges. I initiated a drastic change in the way they distributed their products, leading to substantial savings and improved service to their customers. In the end, I helped the new owners increase profitability while becoming more responsive to their customers’ needs.

It sounds like you have worked in many different industries.

It’s one of my strengths. I think the only industry I haven’t worked in is retail. My focus is always finance, operations, and management at the C-level. This diversity helps me bring ideas and best practices from one industry to solve business challenges in another.

What attracts you to interim roles?

When acting as CFO of a company that is doing well, there are usually few challenges. While you can always improve a company’s metrics, I prefer tough challenges, which usually come by way of a turnaround project, or by working with a healthy company aggressively seeking to increase revenue, expand nationally or globally or improve its bottom line. I also find it challenging to work with successful companies interested in expanding through acquisitions.

How so?

Because going after an acquisition involves analysis of the market and identifying potential targets, negotiating the acquisition, and then integrating the acquired company. You need to be highly creative and think strategically, and address the needs of the seller and the buyer so that at the end both sides feel like a winner.

You worked a year and a half at Selway Partners, a private equity group, starting several technology companies and leading $38 million worth of investments and private placements. What did you bring away from this PE experience that has helped you in other assignments?

It honed my negotiation skills and ability to manage multiple efforts at one time. With each startup, I was involved in the due diligence process and negotiating not only with the startup founders, but at the same time I negotiated the investment terms with other private equity groups. We were usually the lead investors and we frequently brought in additional co-investors. Each investment was a relatively complex deal to put together. I needed to make the founders happy with the investors, make the investors happy with the terms of the deal, and coordinate with the accountants and attorneys, basically ensuring everyone was on board with the final terms and conditions.

What was your role after the startup was up and running?

I mentored the CEO and the CFO and helped them with their growth plans. I was actively involved on the finance side and attended board meetings.

You also served as CFO and acting COO of a NASDAQ-listed medical device company. What was the state of the company when you stepped in?

The company had been losing money since its inception about 20 years ago. I remember when I got the call from the CEO, my first question was, “Why would I ever want to join a company like that?” I was convinced to join once he told me about his plans to turn around the company and his exit strategy.

What was his plan?

To invest extensively in R & D to develop new and innovative products. He also planned to invest in sales, marketing and improve the financial and operational infrastructure of the company to support accelerated growth. After joining the company, I developed a plan to reduce costs and increase efficiency and productivity.

Were you successful?

Two years later the company had better cash flow and increased productivity. We reduced inventories by better managing the purchasing cycle and vendor relations, we increased manufacturing productivity by more than 200 percent in five months by improving the manufacturing and the quality control processes, and we restructured the balance sheet. I also improved the accounting process and the SEC filing, increased transparency and implemented Sarbanes-Oxley.

What is the biggest mistake troubled companies make?

I cringe when I hear “We’ve always done it this way, so it’s the right thing to do.”

True! Where do you go with that?

This type of statement gives me the incentive to find a better way of planning and executing a process, by evaluating it from a different angle, in order to improve it or change it entirely. The fact that somebody has done something for many years is not really a good reason to continue doing it in the same way.

You have experience working with and serving on boards of directors. What are the attributes of a good director?

You have to be direct and honestly express your opinion. This is important because boards tend to not ask the tough questions. They often listen to what the CEO is presenting, and usually approve what is asked of them. I’m always inquisitive, and before reaching a decision, I take into account the CEO’s suggestions, while considering the board’s view and what’s best for the shareholders.

That’s a tough challenge.

I am able to deal with tough decisions. Even if it sometimes ends up being a wrong decision, it’s better to make a decision, than not make one at all. I also have high integrity and strong ethics, which make people want to work with me.

Tell us about an ethical challenge or lack of integrity?

I was contacted by a board member of a company I did some restructuring work for a few years earlier. He asked me to come in and take a look at the financials of a company he invested in, because he suspected the CEO was not giving him the correct records. Within a week I found that the CEO was defrauding him and the bank.

What did you do next?

I met with the bank, the CEO, and the investor and told them what I found. A week later the CEO was fired and I was installed as the interim CEO. My goal was to help the bank recover some of its losses and then prepare the company for sale. Within a year and a half, we were able to sell the assets and recover part of the bank’s losses. The bank gave me a few more restructuring assignments after that.

How do you describe yourself as a leader?

I am a very demanding, but fair leader. I always make sure that if my team needs to stay late in order to meet a deadline, I stay with them and am available to answer questions or respond to a crisis. I also make sure they get rewarded in some way for their hard work. I highly value each and every employee’s contribution to a company.