Changing face of IM

If your image of interim managers is that of grey haired men in suits, then
think again. There are plenty of opportunities for women interested in pursuing
an IM career.  By Wilf Altman

The lifestyle and flexibility of an interim manager appeals to more and more
women. Gender is irrelevant; age unimportant. It suits women with a
professional background and those who want to return to work after a career
break to have children.

To be an interim manager you need to be part-consultant, part
"doer", implementing your advice. What companies look for are
specialist skills that may be needed to cope with corporate change, business
pressures or to fill a short-term gap.

"You have to have a skills base and be very specialised," says
Victoria Sutton-Atherden, 33, "and you have to like short-term assignments
and have a strong degree of self-confidence. Confidence to make a diagnostic
assessment fast and learn about the business and move in to action."

Female interim managers – professionals with a strong track record in HR,
finance, marketing, production or IT tend to be in their late 30s, 40s or more,
with a lot of experience.

Elaine Green, a single parent with a nine year old son, was an HR director
for a housing association until 1999. Interim management is ideal for her, she
finds, because she can only work part of the week and within reasonable
distance of her home where she spends some of the week on consultancy projects.
She is currently working on a re-organisation project for Leonard Cheshire
Homes.

"The right placement is important," she says. "You have to
get to know the organisation and work closely with the internal team. I get a
buzz out of that. It’s an intellectual and personal challenge. Working on site in
the mornings and at home afternoons and evenings fits in with my domestic life.
Clients can be very co-operative, but you have to be very competent
professionally."

Matching the right candidate to the right assignment is a challenge for the
specialist agencies. Leading firms like Russam GMS take trouble to screen
candidates and to understand the client’s brief. The right chemistry is
critical.

"You have to be on several agencies’ books and develop a relationship
with them," says Carol Harris. "Self marketing and networking are
also important." Carol pursues a portfolio of interests – interim
management, publishing and editing a bi-monthly magazine, Effective Consulting,
writing books, training, coaching and keeping pigs.

Gillian Nutt has been an interim manager for two-and-a-half years. Her
background is in setting up call centres, when they were relatively new. Her
last assignment involved re-engineering a call centre for Matthew Clark, wine
and spirit wholesalers in Bristol.

"Setting up a contact centre is a major move for any company,"
says Richard Peters, managing director, Matthew Clark. "We knew that the
early phase of our project would be the toughest, so we needed the expertise
Gill could offer full-time. Gill gave us exactly what we needed and set us up
to be brilliant in the future."

At the end of her assignment, the company offered Nutt a permanent role as a
director of the wholesale company, but she preferred her life as an interim
manager. "I like going into fresh situations," she says, "and I
don’t mind moving around the country and never knowing where and when your next
assignment may be." Her present assignment is as communications manager
with one of the big five banks in central London.

Does she see more opportunities for women in interim management? "Yes,
because many companies are going through a lot of change fast and often need to
bring in extra skills. There is definitely an influx of younger women coming
into interim management." But she cautions: "You must first have
achieved a senior role in a good company before you can succeed as an interim.
When you start an assignment you are expected to be on top of the job within
two days."

From the client’s point of view, says Petra Marshall, who is currently on a
performance improvement assignment, "the value of an interim manager is
that they get wider experience at a fixed cost, and they can dispense with us
when we are no longer needed". With an Open University MBA in performance
improvement, Marshall worked for Safeway as a financial administrator before
setting out as an interim manager four years ago. Her current project involves
a massively overstocked warehouse that isn’t getting supplies out to customers
on time.

The great thing about working as an interim, according to Anne Sherry, who
has a senior HR background with Reckitt and Coleman, Seagram and Bowater Scott,
is that "it gives you flexibility, as long as you are prepared to drop
everything else to give it 100 per cent". She is currently on her third
assignment for the Army in Aldershot and combines interim work with lecturing
at the European Management Centre in Brussels and writing.

If you’ve packed in a lot of experience in your first 10 years, interim
management can be an option, says Jane Sadler, who has been doing it for the
past five years. Companies need help and there are often gaps to be filled when
an executive leaves. Finance, marketing, sales and HR are the most promising
fields, but working closely with reliable agencies and self-marketing are
important. Sadler started with department store John Lewis, which sponsored her
studies for the CIPD. She recently completed a 12-month assignment for Deutsche
Bank in Frankfurt, working on HR information systems and for Cable &
Wireless on a compensation and rewards assignment.

She is happy to talk about fees, which tend to be on a par with those of
male interim managers. A daily rate of between £500 and £600 appears to be the
average, but working at board level can pay a lot more.

This corresponds broadly with research by Russam GMS earlier this year that
revealed that average earnings are almost £500 per day in HR but more for IT
specialists and general managers. The research also showed that interim
management is now a market worth around £500m and is growing at the rate of 10
per cent per year. Some agencies argue it’s much more. Russam’s research
predicts that lifestyle issues will become a key reason for more senior
executives turning to interim management. If you’ve got more than one skill,
finding the right assignment will never be a problem.

Angela Sheen left NatWest Bank as a senior manager and with substantial HR
experience. For the past six years in interim management, she has undertaken
assignments requiring both skills, latterly for ING Bank, restructuring a savings
bank in Kiev. Before that she had an assignment in the Lord Chancellor’s
office, setting up a new department and advising on recruitment and selection
procedures.

Moving from a salaried post to working as an interim manager obviously takes
courage and a lot of self-confidence and self-motivation. The first one or two
assignments are probably the most challenging, but if you’ve done well for one
company, you are likely to be called in again, and again.

Resources

Interim Management Association 020-7323 4300

Russam GMS 01582 666970

BIE 020-7222 1010

Ashton Penney – 020-7659 0600

Case study

"I like the challenge",
says Victoria Sutton-Atherden. "You go in cold. You are there for a short
time. Each company you go to is different. You have to be credible. Ideally you
need to have had training and background with a really good company."

Sutton-Atherden, who specialises in recruitment, studied modern
languages and decided to become an interim manager last year following five
years experience, first as a researcher for headhunters and later as a
headhunter in media recruitment and working for a dotcom company, "which
was brilliant until the bottom fell out of the market".  

Since then she has worked on recruitment assignments for a
market research company in media and for a leading PR consultancy.

She decided she could work as a freelance and registered with a
few leading agencies specialising in interims. One of her first assignments
came through Russam GMS, implementing a new HR strategy and recruitment
procedure for Verdict Research.

"I like the lifestyle and variety and being able to work
abroad as much as in the UK and taking two months off in the summer if I
want."

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