“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.
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.
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.
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.
A multi-billion dollar consumer products company wanted to revamp the organization to stay competitive and relevant to customers around the globe. One area of focus was technology. IT had been outsourced, and as a result the company lost control of its ability to innovate. Acquisitions over the years compounded the problem, with divisions in silos operating with extreme variability in skills, behavior, interface and processes country to county.
From Europe to Asia to South America and North America, management came together with a vision to take a disjointed organization and transform it into one collaborative global IT structure. Under this model IT would take charge of application and infrastructure management, security, enterprise architecture, staffing, and performance management.
The global CIO had his hands full, running several initiatives:
When I started my first company at age 26, I’ll admit, it was lonely. Even though we were only a team of six, there was a clear dividing line between me as founder and CEO, and my staff.
I learned how to pull in expert help, but I had a lingering feeling over the years that I took the business more seriously than anyone else on the team. Especially cash flow. And making payroll. Eventually I built a successful company, but not until hitting every pothole I could find. Hindsight is 20-20, but an executive-level leader alongside me would have spared so much pain.
This was my driving force to becoming an interim executive myself. Helping owners and founders to get over hurdles that, left to their own devices, would take years to master, and in many cases skills they didn’t otherwise need or enjoy. I focused on high growth tech companies, getting them to market and eventually for M&A events that would bring extraordinary returns to investors.
This is still what drives us today at InterimExecs: to empower companies to reach their full potential by building world-class leadership. Whatever it takes to accomplish projects, goals, growth initiatives, or in some cases fixing what’s broken.
Scanning someone’s career history, what does it mean when you see the word acting in a title?
The language around interim executives, executives who specialize in growing, transforming and turning around companies can be tricky as executives in the specialty don’t always identify themselves with the same language. But in some cases acting can be another indicator that you have found an interim.
Consider your audience: is the executive being presented to the board of directors, the company at large, or to the general public?
When it comes to public companies, the language is precise and if an executive has temporarily stepped in while a permanent search takes place, they will be described as interim or acting. Things get confusing because public companies often appoint board members to this interim or acting role who serve as more of a baby sitter or placeholder. Beware that this is not the same thing as a career interim who can be identified by their career history taking on high impact engagement after engagement, helping cause companies to grow or turnaround.
The far larger use of interim executives is in private companies worldwide, whether for profit or nonprofit.
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.
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.