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.
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,
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.
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:
2017 offered daily excitement. The markets continued an unrelenting upward streak. While some debate the strength of underlying fundamentals, valuations public and private rose all year long.
In our business at InterimExecs, demand for interim management continued strongly while gaining momentum in the US. We had fun matching inspiring companies and executives together that were focused on growth, transformation, or taking on big initiatives and goals (see some of our favorite moments of 2017 here: www.interimexecs.org/2017-review).
Thanks to Peter Diamandis and the Abundance360 team, I now know 2018 will prove to be even better in all respects.
Bill Merchantz, founder of Lakeview Technology, has done pretty well. His first company went public after he exited and his second sold to a big PE fund. But he told me he had one regret in forming a company – he wished he’d had a formal board of directors early on.
An active board filled with diverse skillsets can save an entrepreneur from himself.
Successful entrepreneurs forming a company have to master the paradox of being both stubborn and thick-skinned while simultaneously listening and being open to change. The best vehicle for that sounding board is a board, so why don’t more entrepreneurs create a brain trust?
The project-based executive, also known as an interim executive has been around for 30+ years, having originated in the Netherlands, later expanding to the UK, the rest of Europe and finally reaching America around 2000.
The early model for interim engagements was invariably focused on turnaround and distress situations: an organization in pain would eventually decide they couldn’t solve the problem on their own, and would seek an outside resource, often through executive search firms, where the executive was never a permanent employee.
Interims have played a part since the early days of private equity funds, where fund managers would use executive search services as part and parcel of their post-acquisition ownership strategy. A fund would see big potential in a struggling company, and would realize big returns by bringing in an outside executive to turn the company around. Thus the early version of interim – interim 1.0 – was all about fixing what was broken.
The next phase in interim executive deployment launched in the US, arguably emerging out of the tech community.
In the Computerworld article “The latest in IT services? CIO hired guns“, Robert Jordan, CEO of the Association of Interim Executives explained to Computerworld that interim executives are responsible for “hiring, firing and making decisions”.
Thank you to RED Team members, Damon Neth and Dean Samuels, who also provided great insights. Dean Samuels, Interim CIO, said “This is exactly what the future is. We’ve gone from an IT asset portfolio to an IT service portfolio. So if IT has transformed into a services portfolio, why wouldn’t you get an IT service-oriented CIO as a service?”
Interim CIO, Damon Neth explained the honesty that comes with interim executives adding “I have no problem selling unpopular messages if I believe that they’re right for the organization or addressing the elephant in the room.”