Can interim managers make a difference to the National Health Service, bring
a more commercial touch to central and local government, or help the Police to
fight crime? Wilf Altman looks at IM’s splash in the public sector
Interims are already in demand by the NHS as general managers, HR directors
and financial controllers and they are branching into many other parts of the
Interim providers say demand for interims by the public sector has risen
sharply in the past 12 months and predict this is only the start. Users of
interims with specialist skills, in management, HR or finance admit interims
can make a real contribution in the drive to modernise.
"There is a huge amount of activity going on in central and local
government," says Torrie Smith, director of interim management at
PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Local authorities are becoming major users of
interim managers, as are government agencies, because they have more
independence. PwC has seen a 30 to 40 per cent growth in public sector assignments
over the past 12 months."
New government initiatives like the Small Business Service (see case study)
illustrate the opportunities for interims, but also suggest there is now a much
wider understanding of the IM role. On the one hand, why bring forward
permanent appointments when a perceived role is still unclear and a
professional short-term interim manager can help clarify your exact
requirements? On the other, what we are seeing is private sector involvement in
the public sector to step up efficiency and, where appropriate, profitability –
and this will grow.
Even the Cabinet Office recently invited a delegation of senior members of
the Interim Management Association – Ian Daniel, Torrie Smith and Charles
Russam – to brief HR heads of government departments. They were very
interested, according to Daniel, chairman of the association.
One reason the interim market is opening up in the public sector, he points
out, is the need for specialists who can implement change, not just offer
advice or written reports. The experience of his own firm, Executive Support,
suggests the public sector and not-for-profit assignments lead the current
demand for interims, followed by demand for retail, finance, business and
project managers. The reason is that interim managers are seen to be more cost
effective than management consultants.
Neil Simpson, head of TMP Executive Resourcing’s public sector practice
says, "We have noticed a significant increase in the number of public
sector clients and that is also the case with large charities. Greater demand
by government agencies and local government is all part of the modernisation
agenda and the call for structural change."
Typically, interims are not only brought in to implement change and
commercial practice, but also to fill short-term gaps where there is a high
turnover of senior staff.
Nigel Plumpton, head of personnel at the National Heritage Memorial Fund,
turned to TMP "when we needed a suitable interim manager to cover a gap as
a regional manager for three to four months, as we weren’t able to cover the
job internally. TMP found a suitable candidate with the right background and
experience in public sector work."
Plumpton attributes the growing demand for interim managers by large public
sector organisations to continuing reorganisation and restructuring and more
flexible work arrangements. In the NHS, where he worked previously, it is
partly due to quite a high turnover of senior managers.
But he also echoes a view that is heard more frequently, namely that more
and more senior staffers are looking to work as interim managers as a career
option. "They are prepared to step out of continuous employment and change
the pattern of their work life. It is not only people coming towards the end of
their careers, but those who are making the change much earlier in their
careers because they are keen to move around."
In a recent lecture to MBA students at Cranfield School of Management,
Charles Russam, chairman of Russam GMS, noted that business school leavers once
attracted by dotcom start-ups are now showing real interest in starting their
own business as interim managers. Russam, who has been closely involved in the
development of interim management for 15 years, confirms it is attracting more
young people, especially in HR, finance and general management. But he warns
would-be interim managers that if you want to succeed, you have got to see
yourself as a serious small business, operate as a professional, network as
part of a self-marketing discipline and work closely in conjunction with a few
You need a proven track record in a particular discipline, a commitment to
working as an interim manager, the ability to hit the deck running and the
qualities of a good consultant to assess a situation fast, but also the ability
to implement change and deliver results.
Mark Piercy exemplifies the Russam GMS paradigm and proves not only what is
achievable as an interim manager but also how seasoned interims can move
comfortably from private to public sector assignments. As a purchasing
specialist with a business degree in purchasing and a professional
qualification, he has been an interim manager for the past five years, with
virtually no down-time, working closely with a few hand-picked agencies –
Praxis, BIE, Russam GMS and Odger. "You have got to be flexible, prepared
to work anywhere and to work up to 12 hours a day," he says.
He has worked in the NHS, looking at efficiency in purchasing in order to
cut costs. He has also had other public sector approaches from police forces,
universities, and ordinance surveys. Following a spell as interim purchasing
director with soap firm Cussons and a switch to consultancy with one of the
‘big five’ accountancy/consulting firms, he is now working on an assignment with
a manufacturer of pharmaceutical, health and beauty products but sees growing
demand for interims in the public sector.
Another interim HR manager with five years experience including public
sector work, following a career in manufacturing and financial services opted
for interim management because, in his 40s, it offered more interesting
opportunities than continuing in corporate employment. His IM assignments have
varied from financial services to executive agency work where he filled a gap
as HR manager. The variety appeals to him, plus the fact he can fill 75 to 80
per cent of the year. He spends the rest of the year networking. But there is a
warning: if you decide to make the switch, allow at least six months to make
the adjustment, including getting used to the absence of monthly salary
"I enjoy working in the public sector, "says
Darraugh. "There are private sector organisations which are a lot more
bureaucratic!" Since last October, Michelle has worked as an interim
manager on a year’s contract for the Small Business Service, a two-year old
agency of the DTI. An internet and marketing specialist, she manages a website
providing feature articles, fact sheets, questions and answers and even help on
cutting red tape for SMEs. "We are very customer driven. I run my own
small business (Blast Consulting) and our site feeds ideas to other small
Darraugh moved into interim management when she "reached a
crossroads in her career". With an English degree from Cambridge, she
started in publishing 12 years ago, falling into electronic publishing when it
was still in its infancy, first with Routledge, then with Reed Elsevier where
she developed a reference service on CD-Rom, then Financial Times Management
(part of Pearson) for five years and finally with a virgin internet start up
business. "I wanted to try running my own business. Interim management
appealed to me."
"A friend who had been working as an interim manager for
several years through Russam GMS heard about the opportunity at the SBS. I
thought with my experience I was the perfect candidate and contacted Bob
Hoskinson, a Russam director. He put my
name forward, I was interviewed and got the job."
Being an interim manager for the past five months and working
in a government agency has been a great experience, Michelle admits. "I’ve
managed to do quite a lot in a short space of time. I like the start up
atmosphere and I can relate well to my target audience."
A qualified banker and senior HR specialist, Sheen left NatWest
in 1994, before the bank made a number of senior managers redundant. She decided to try interim management.
Most of her assignments – gained through agencies,
recommendation and referral – have been in the public sector, both in the UK
and in emerging markets abroad. Her most recent assignment involved
restructuring the State Savings Bank in the Ukraine, an assignment for ING
Bank, which came via PwC.
One of her latest assignments in the UK, through Russam GMS, was based in a division
of the Lord Chancellor’s Office and involved the changeover of the Public Trust
Office to the new Public Guardianship Office. This called for a skills transfer
of existing HR staff and new selection procedures, as well as the development
of a new competency framework.
A previous assignment saw her as adviser to the State Security
Commission in Bulgaria – a Delloite & Touche appointment.
Other foreign bank assignments called for both commercial
advice and assistance in developing new HR strategies.
Sheen says, from talking to other interim managers, it seems
more assignments are coming from the public sector – both those secured
directly and through agencies. It is a welcome development at a time when the
private sector is still uncertain about the immediate economic outlook.
Initially networking played a key role in starting and becoming
known, says Sheen. But now a lot of her work comes through recommendation.
PricewaterhouseCoopers 020-7213 8344
Russam GMS 01582 666970
BIE 020-7222 1010
Ashton Penney 020-7659 0600
TMP 020-7406 5115
Interim Managers Association 01795 530830